Emergency room patients increasingly leave California hospitals against medical advice, and experts say crowded ERs are likely to blame.
About 352,000 California ER visits in 2017 ended when patients left after seeing a doctor but before their medical care was complete. That’s up by 57%, or 128,000 incidents, from 2012, according to data from the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.
Another 322,000 would-be patients left the emergency room without seeing a doctor, up from 315,000 such episodes in 2012.
Several hospital administrators said overcrowding is a likely culprit for the trend. California emergency room trips grew by almost 20%, or 2.4 million, from 2012 to 2017.
Moreover, ER wait times also increased for many during that time period: In 2017, the median ER wait time for patients before admission as inpatients to California hospitals was 336 minutes — or more than 5½ hours. That is up 15 minutes from 2012, according to the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The median wait time for those discharged without admission to the hospital dropped 12 minutes over that period, but still clocked in at more than 2½ hours in 2017.
California wait times remain higher than the national average. In 2017, the median length of a stay in the ER before inpatient admission nationwide was 80 minutes shorter than the median stay in California. Four states — Maryland, New York, New Jersey and Delaware — had even longer median wait times.