• aging;
  • emergency services;
  • ambulatory care;
  • geriatric care;
  • health services research


Objective: To characterize the ED utilization patterns of the elderly population using nationally representative data.

Methods: A secondary analysis was performed using the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS), a nationwide, stratified probability sample of ED encounters. Using these physician-reported data, the demographics, patient complaints, physician diagnoses, and dispositions were compared by age group, i.e., young-old (age 65–84 years) vs old-old (age ±85 years).

Results: The elderly (age ±65 years) represented 5,038 (19.6%) of 25,646 ED encounters for all adults (age ±18 years). The geriatric age groups (ages 65–74, 75–84, and ±85 years) accounted for 45.3%, 37.4%, and 17.2% of all the encounters by the elderly. The proportions of female patients and white patients were higher with increasing age. The proportion of elderly patients hospitalized was 4 times that of younger adults and reflected monotonic increase with increasing age among elders. Patient complaints and physician diagnoses were generally similar for the young-old (65–84 years) and the old-old (±85 years).

Conclusions: These findings are consistent with previous single-center studies of geriatric ED patients. This data source may be useful for investigation of clinical issues related to the care of elderly ED patients.