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Emergency Room Visits, Wait Times On The Rise In California

BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons
A San Mateo County American Medical Response ambulance in Daly City, Calif.

California’s emergency departments are becoming more crowded — a trend experts say indicates larger problems in the health system.

New data from the California Health Care Foundation shows that emergency department visits rose 44 percent from 2006 to 2016. California patients who get admitted to the hospital spend about an hour longer in the emergency room than patients nationally.

Renee Hsia, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of California San Francisco and author of the report, says part of the problem is the state’s aging population.

“As people age, their needs become greater,” she said. “We also have people with complex conditions that are surviving that may not have survived a few decades ago.”

She said more primary care options aren’t the whole answer — some people have regular doctors and just go to the emergency room anyway. And Hsia said doctors often refer their own patients to emergency when they’re too busy.

On top of that, emergency rooms are holding high numbers of mentally ill patients and people abusing drugs and alcohol, she said. That’s due to a shortage of beds in drug rehabs and psychiatric facilities.

A lack of inpatient hospital beds may also be part of the problem.

“There are patients waiting downstairs that can’t get upstairs,” Hsia said. “So the ED ends up being a bottleneck.”

And people may be going to the emergency room for ailments they could be addressing in a doctor’s office.

“We just live in a world where people expect things to happen right away,” Hsia said. “The idea of waiting one to two weeks for a scan, people don’t like it.”

Some hospitals are adding inpatient and emergency room beds to alleviate the problem.

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