June 22, 2024

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Why Are California Emergency Room Waits So Long?

Why Are California Emergency Room Waits So Long?


Why Are California Emergency Room Waits So Long?


A new UCSF study sheds light on the causes of excessive emergency room wait times, largely attributable to a misalignment between California’s growing patient demand and emergency department (ED) capacity over the past decade.

The total number of emergency room visits statewide decreased by about 4 percent, while the frequency of emergency room visits increased by 7.4 percent, the researchers found.


Why Are California Emergency Room Waits So Long?


The reason for the long wait times in California’s emergency departments is that emergency department capacity has not kept pace with growing demand over the past decade, according to a recent UCSF study. The analysis found that while the number of emergency departments has decreased, there has been a significant increase in visits and serious cases.


This comprehensive study is the first to take a closer look at recent trends in emergency medical service use in California. In addition, they revealed that visits for severe illnesses surged by nearly 68%, while visits for less severe illnesses fell by 63%.


“We know emergency rooms are overcrowded. Capacity has largely failed to meet the growth in patient demand,” said Hsia, MD, professor of emergency medicine at UCSF. The paper was recently published in the journal JAMA Network Open.


The U.S. healthcare system has undergone many changes in recent years, but the emergency department (ED) still plays an important role in the system. EDs must treat all patients regardless of their ability to pay, and EDs also serve as a safety net for uninsured patients, many of whom receive primary care through EDs.


The new study used data from the California Department of Health Care Access and Information and the U.S. Census Bureau from January 1, 2011 to December 31, 2021.


During that time, California’s population grew by 4.2%, but the number of emergency rooms fell from 339 to 326, while the number of hospital beds decreased by 2.5% (from 75,940 to 74,052).


“Our findings suggest that many healthcare professionals already know the truth: Over the past 10-15 years, the burden on emergency departments across California has increased,” Hsia said.


“Understanding these trends is the first step to improving emergency department care,” she said. “To efficiently and equitably address ED congestion and improve overall care, policymakers and healthcare managers should strive to increase ED capacity while making deliberate decisions about where and how resources are best allocated.



Why Are California Emergency Room Waits So Long?

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