California Emergency Departments: Use Grows as Coverage Expands

Renee Y. Hsia, University of California, San Francisco


Emergency departments (EDs) are a vital component of California’s health care system, providing critical care regardless of the patient’s ability to pay, and offering an important entry point for hospital inpatient care. In 2016, 334 hospitals in California operated EDs, handling 14.6 million visits between them.

This report, California Emergency Departments: Use Grows as Coverage Expands, explores availability across the state, and who pays for treatment. It also examines data on wait times and ambulance diversion hours.

Key findings include:

  • While the number of EDs in California remained more or less stable between 2006 and 2016, the number of treatment stations rose from 6,087 to 7,889. In the same period, the number of ED visits increased by 44%.
  • Medi-Cal was the expected payer for 43% of all ED visits in 2016, compared to 26% for private payers, and 21% for Medicare.
  • ED patients in California who were sent home spent nearly three hours in the ED, 24 minutes longer than the national average. California ED patients who were admitted to the hospital spent over five and a half hours in the ED, one hour longer than the national average.

The full report is available for download under Related Materials.