States with the Longest Emergency Room Wait Times [New Data]

The 15 states with the longest emergency room wait times averaged 219 minutes before admitting a patient. Eight of the 15 worst states for ER wait times came from the Northeast, whereas four are from the West and three from the South. The Midwest region is the only region not represented in this list of the states with the most extended emergency room wait times.

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Sara Routhier, Managing Editor and Outreach Director, has professional experience as an educator, SEO specialist, and content marketer. She has over five years of experience in the insurance industry. As a researcher, data nerd, writer, and editor she strives to curate educational, enlightening articles that provide you with the must-know facts and best-kept secrets within the overwhelming world o...

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Dan Walker graduated with a BS in Administrative Management in 2005 and has been working in his family’s insurance agency, FCI Agency, for 15 years (BBB A+). He is licensed as an agent to write property and casualty insurance, including home, auto, umbrella, and dwelling fire insurance. He’s also been featured on sites like Reviews.com and Safeco. He reviews content, ensuring that ex...

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Reviewed by Daniel Walker
Licensed Auto Insurance Agent

UPDATED: May 11, 2021

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Things to Remember

  • Emergency room visits have been steadily increasing for years
  • Those in poverty are most likely to visit the emergency room
  • Just 1% of visits to the emergency room require immediate attention
  • People wait a median of 141 minutes to be seen in an emergency room

Just how long should an ER wait be? Emergency department visits have been increasing steadily for more than 20 years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 144.9 million emergency department (also commonly referred to as emergency room) visits in 2017, roughly a 50 percent increase from 1995.

But it’s not just population growth that’s accounting for the spike. The rate of emergency room visits has grown too, reaching 445 visits per thousand residents in 2017 compared to 360 in 1995. This article delves deep into the states with the longest emergency room wait times.

Emergency department visit rates over time

Despite the label, most emergency department visits are for non-emergency care. Triage statistics from the CDC reveal that less than 1 percent of emergency room visits require immediate attention and only 9.9 percent are categorized as emergent. While approximately a third of emergency department visits are deemed urgent, nearly another third fall into less-than-urgent categories.

Emergency department visits based in urgency

With the steady rise in emergency department visits, many patients are experiencing longer wait times as well. In general, emergency rooms do reasonably well when it comes to getting people seen initially.

Nationwide, over 40 percent of patients are seen by a physician, nurse, or physician assistant within 15 minutes of checking in.

However, 14 percent of visits have an initial wait time exceeding one hour and approximately 2 percent of patients leave the hospital without being seen at all. This time will also vary by location and provider, such as Pennsylvania hospital ER wait times versus ER wait times in Las Vegas, or UPMC emergency room wait times versus a specialty hospital’s current ER wait times.

Emergency Department initial patient wait times upon checking in

While initial screening times in the emergency department can be relatively quick, the total time spent waiting for treatment, discharge, or to be admitted to the hospital for further treatment is significantly longer.

Nationwide, patients who are ultimately admitted to the hospital spend a median of 103 minutes waiting in the emergency department for an inpatient room after the ER doctor decides to admit them.

People who are not ultimately admitted as inpatients spend a median of 141 minutes in the emergency department before leaving from the visit.

To find which states have the longest emergency department wait times, our researchers here at AutoInsurance.org analyzed data from the CDC and the Kaiser Family Foundation. Our researchers ranked the 15 states with the longest median wait times for patients that are ultimately admitted to the hospital as inpatients.

Our researchers also included data on discharged patients and patients who decide to leave before getting seen. The longest wait times are clustered in the Northeast, while the Midwest has shorter wait times.

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Want to save money on other expenses for an ER visit? If you want to save on car insurance by getting a quote, enter your ZIP code into our FREE online quote comparison tool. It’ll give you the best rates for your area based on your demographic information and driving history.

In this article, we’ll also cover current emergency room wait times, average ER wait times, the longest ER wait times, and answer the question, “How long is the wait at the emergency room?”

We also include complete state ER wait time data so you find out the answer to the question, “How long is the wait time in the ER?” for your state.

Now, onto the 15 states with the longest emergency room wait times.

The 15 States with the Longest ER Wait Times

#15 – Pennsylvania

  • Median time waiting for inpatient room (admitted patients): 115 minutes
  • Median time in the emergency dept. (discharged patients): 142 minutes
  • Percentage of patients leaving before being seen: 2%
  • Emergency department visits per 1k residents: 51

#14 – Nevada

  • Median time waiting for inpatient room (admitted patients): 115 minutes
  • Median time in the emergency dept. (discharged patients): 145 minutes
  • Percentage of patients leaving before being seen: 1%
  • Emergency department visits per 1k residents: 323

#13 – New Hampshire

  • Median time waiting for inpatient room (admitted patients): 115 minutes
  • Median time in the emergency dept. (discharged patients): 147 minutes
  • Percentage of patients leaving before being seen: 2%
  • Emergency department visits per 1k residents: 498

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#12 – Vermont

  • Median time waiting for inpatient room (admitted patients): 119 minutes
  • Median time in the emergency dept. (discharged patients): 145 minutes
  • Percentage of patients leaving before being seen: 1%
  • Emergency department visits per 1k residents: 514

#11 – Alaska

  • Median time waiting for inpatient room (admitted patients): 121 minutes
  • Median time in the emergency dept. (discharged patients): 125 minutes
  • Percentage of patients leaving before being seen: 1%
  • Emergency department visits per 1k residents: 551

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#10 – Hawaii

  • Median time waiting for inpatient room (admitted patients): 131 minutes
  • Median time in the emergency dept. (discharged patients): 122 minutes
  • Percentage of patients leaving before being seen: 1%
  • Emergency department visits per 1k residents: 317

#9 – Massachusetts

  • Median time waiting for inpatient room (admitted patients): 131 minutes
  • Median time in the emergency dept. (discharged patients): 173 minutes
  • Percentage of patients leaving before being seen: 2%
  • Emergency department visits per 1k residents: 485

#8 – Rhode Island

  • Median time waiting for inpatient room (admitted patients): 147 minutes
  • Median time in the emergency dept. (discharged patients): 185 minutes
  • Percentage of patients leaving before being seen: 3%
  • Emergency department visits per 1k residents: 390

#7 – California

  • Median time waiting for inpatient room (admitted patients): 150 minutes
  • Median time in the emergency dept. (discharged patients): 160 minutes
  • Percentage of patients leaving before being seen: 2%
  • Emergency department visits per 1k residents: 341

#6 – New Jersey

  • Median time waiting for inpatient room (admitted patients): 150 minutes
  • Median time in the emergency dept. (discharged patients): 166 minutes
  • Percentage of patients leaving before being seen: 2%
  • Emergency department visits per 1k residents: 431

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#5 – Connecticut

  • Median time waiting for inpatient room (admitted patients): 152 minutes
  • Median time in the emergency dept. (discharged patients): 159 minutes
  • Percentage of patients leaving before being seen: 1%
  • Emergency department visits per 1k residents: 480

#4 – Maryland

  • Median time waiting for inpatient room (admitted patients): 152 minutes
  • Median time in the emergency dept. (discharged patients): 210 minutes
  • Percentage of patients leaving before being seen: 3%
  • Emergency department visits per 1k residents: 392

#3 – New York

  • Median time waiting for inpatient room (admitted patients): 153 minutes
  • Median time in the emergency dept. (discharged patients): 178 minutes
  • Percentage of patients leaving before being seen: 2%
  • Emergency department visits per 1k residents: 433

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#2 – Delaware

  • Median time waiting for inpatient room (admitted patients): 153 minutes
  • Median time in the emergency dept. (discharged patients): 186 minutes
  • Percentage of patients leaving before being seen: 4%
  • Emergency department visits per 1k residents: 467

#1 – District of Columbia

  • Median time waiting for inpatient room (admitted patients): 286 minutes
  • Median time in the emergency dept. (discharged patients): 236 minutes
  • Percentage of patients leaving before being seen: 3%
  • Emergency department visits per 1k residents: 698

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All States Ranked by ER Wait Times

StateWait Time (Admitted Patients)Wait Time (Discharged Patients)Unseen Patient PercentER Visits (Per 1,000)Rank
District of Columbia28623636981
Delaware15318644672
New York15317824333
Maryland15221033924
Connecticut15215914805
New Jersey15016624316
California15016023417
Rhode Island14718533908
Massachusetts13117324859
Hawaii131122131710
Alaska121125155111
Vermont119145151412
New Hampshire115147249813
Nevada115145132314
Pennsylvania115142251415
Washington112182339816
New Mexico111148347517
Arizona110168231918
North Carolina109155247319
Georgia108140245520
Florida107144143821
Michigan105141151122
Oregon99146237823
Louisiana99120261824
Texas98133242225
South Carolina96145351326
Maine96137248627
Illinois95146244828
Ohio93132161129
Tennessee91140151930
Missouri88135250431
Virginia88131142332
Kentucky85146258033
Indiana83122151434
Colorado80131135535
Alabama79126247936
Arkansas76121249637
Oklahoma75108249238
West Virginia73128264839
Idaho70119139440
Minnesota69111137241
North Dakota6897153842
Mississippi67111260443
Montana63115248044
Utah62124135845
Nebraska62106142046
Wisconsin61124142947
Iowa60113143648
Wyoming58120143849
Kansas55110141850
South Dakota46109137551
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Frequently Asked Questions: Emergency Rooms

Now that we’ve covered the states with the longest emergency room wait times, let’s get to your frequently asked questions. They include:

  • What time is the ER least busy?
  • Who gets seen first in the emergency room?
  • How can I reduce my emergency room wait time?

Scroll down for the answers to those questions and many more.

#1 – What causes long wait times in the emergency room?

A major problem with the long wait times in emergency rooms is the overcrowding and the fact that people with non-urgent situations are being treated in those settings.

#2 – What time is the ER least busy?

During the middle of the night, between 3 am and 4 am, is generally the slowest time according to some doctors. The reason is simple: People are generally asleep, which reduces the number of possible patients.

#3 – Can I leave the ER if the wait is too long?

Technically, yes, you can leave the ER if the wait is too long. But it is important to wait for a physician to see you and not just for health purposes. Leaving the ER without being seen can have an effect on your health insurance.

#4 – What is the best time of day to go to the emergency room?

According to a large poll, the best time to go to the emergency room is between 6 am and noon. Part of this is likely due to the early morning shift change, which means that healthcare professionals are at the least-tired point in their days.

#5 – Who gets seen first in the emergency room?

A triage nurse generally assesses patients when they come into the emergency room. The people with the deadliest conditions or who require the most urgent treatment are seen first, with those who have the least deadly conditions or require the least urgent treatment are seen last.

#6 – Can the emergency room refuse treatment?

No, an emergency room cannot refuse treatment to someone who walks into the emergency room, even if that person doesn’t have insurance.

#7 – Is the ER more expensive at night?

For hospitals, staffing the emergency room at night is slightly more expensive than staffing it during the day.

#8 – How can I reduce my emergency room wait time?

If you’re a patient, unfortunately, a nurse will assign you a place in the queue depending on your condition and how urgent your case is. However, some tactics you can employ include bringing identification and proof of health insurance, not being rude to the hospital employees, and seeing if you can book online.

#9 – What is considered an emergency for the ER?

Any trauma that is life-threatening, such as a serious head injury or internal bleeding, will be considered an emergency in the ER. Other, lesser traumas, like a broken arm, will come second to patients with life-threatening injuries.

Methodology: States with the Longest ER Wait Times

To identify states with the longest ER wait times, our researchers ordered states by the median time admitted patients spent waiting for an inpatient room after seeing a doctor. In the event of a tie, the median time discharged patients spent in the emergency department before leaving the visit was used.

Emergency department wait times nationally, and for each state, were obtained from the Hospital Compare dataset from the CDC. Emergency department visit rates were obtained with permission from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Rates of emergency department utilization by income were obtained from the CDC’s National Health Interview Survey. All other information on the utilization of emergency departments were obtained from the CDC’s National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey. The top ten most frequently prescribed drug categories were obtained from records of emergency department drug mentions, which are medications given in emergency departments or prescribed at discharge.

Emergency department visits are dominated by lower-income groups.

According to the CDC, nearly 30 percent of visits are for patients below the poverty line, even though Census Bureau data shows that people below the poverty threshold account for just 13.1 percent of the population.

A combination of factors, including reduced access to health insurance and preventive care, contribute to this trend.

Emergency Department patient visits by poverty status


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Furthermore, when it comes to the outcomes of an emergency room visit, many patients are prescribed medication to manage their ailment. Painkillers are the most frequently prescribed drug by a large margin, accounting for more than a quarter of the prescriptions.

These medications, which the CDC classifies as “analgesics,” include narcotics and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. However, growing concerns about the opioid epidemic have brought the practice of prescribing painkillers in the emergency room under intense scrutiny.

Medical drugs prescribed most often to patients during emergency department visits

Overall, there is no single answer to reducing emergency department wait times, non-emergency visits, and the overall number of visits in a year. However, improving access to preventive care, especially among low-income communities, is a step in the right direction.

Car accidents can lead to emergency room visits, and the more there are in an area, the higher the insurance rates may be. Fortunately, there are many ways to save on auto insurance. Just plug in your ZIP code into our FREE online quote generator to get the best rates for your area based on your demographic information and driving history.

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