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J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2015 May 1;16(5):395-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jamda.2015.01.076. Epub 2015 Feb 18.

Identifying Potentially Preventable Emergency Department Visits by Nursing Home Residents in the United States.

Author information

Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Eastern Colorado Health Care System, Denver, CO; Division of General Internal Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Denver, CO. Electronic address:
University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio School of Medicine, San Antonio, TX.
Division of Health Care Policy and Research, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Denver, CO.
Division of Geriatric Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Denver, CO.
Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Denver, CO.



To identify and describe potentially preventable emergency department (ED) visits by nursing home (NH) residents in the United States. These visits are important because they are common, frequently lead to hospitalization, and can be associated with significant cost to the patient and the health care system.


Retrospective analysis of the 2005-2010 National Hospital Ambulatory Care Survey (NHAMCS), comparing ED visits by nursing home residents that did not lead to hospital admission (potentially preventable) with those that led to admission (less likely preventable).


Nationally representative sample of US EDs; federal hospitals and hospitals with fewer than 6 beds were excluded.


Older (age ≥65 years) NH residents with an ED visit during this time period.


Patient demographics, ED visit information including testing performed, interventions (both procedures and medications) provided, and diagnoses treated.


Older NH residents accounted for 3857 of 208,956 ED visits during the time period of interest (1.8%). When weighted to be nationally representative, these represent 13.97 million ED visits, equivalent to 1.8 ED visits annually per NH resident in the United States. More than half of visits (53.5%) did not lead to hospital admission; of those discharged from the ED, 62.8% had normal vital signs on presentation and 18.9% did not have any diagnostic testing before ED discharge. Injuries were 1.78 times more likely to be discharged than admitted (44.8% versus 25.3%, respectively, P < .001), whereas infections were 2.06 times as likely to be admitted as discharged (22.9% versus 11.1%, respectively). Computed tomography (CT) scans were performed in 25.4% and 30.1% of older NH residents who were discharged from the ED and admitted to the hospital, respectively, and more than 70% of these were CTs of the head. NH residents received centrally acting, sedating medications before ED discharge in 9.4% of visits.


This nationally representative sample of older NH residents suggests ED visits for injury, those that are associated with normal triage vital signs, and those that are not associated with any diagnostic testing are potentially preventable. Those discharged from the ED often undergo important testing and receive medications that may alter their physical examination on return to the nursing facility, highlighting the need for seamless communication of the ED course to NHs.


Preventable emergency visit; emergency department utilization; nursing home resident

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