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Am J Public Health. 2013 Jun;103(6):1046-51. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2012.301006. Epub 2013 Apr 18.

Characteristics of emergency department visits by older versus younger homeless adults in the United States.

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Division of Geriatrics, University of California, San Francisco and the Division of Geriatrics, San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, San Francisco, CA 94112, USA.



We compared the characteristics of emergency department (ED) visits of older versus younger homeless adults.


We analyzed 2005-2009 data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, a nationally representative survey of visits to hospitals and EDs, and used sampling weights, strata, and clustering variables to obtain nationally representative estimates.


The ED visits of homeless adults aged 50 years and older accounted for 36% of annual visits by homeless patients. Although demographic characteristics of ED visits were similar in older and younger homeless adults, clinical and health services characteristics differed. Older homeless adults had fewer discharge diagnoses related to psychiatric conditions (10% vs 20%; P = .002) and drug abuse (7% vs 15%; P = .003) but more diagnoses related to alcohol abuse (31% vs 23%; P = .03) and were more likely to arrive by ambulance (48% vs 36%; P = .02) and to be admitted to the hospital (20% vs 11%; P = .003). Conclusions. Older homeless adults' patterns of ED care differ from those of younger homeless adults. Health care systems need to account for these differences to meet the needs of the aging homeless population.

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