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Keywords:

  • aging;
  • elderly;
  • emergency services;
  • geriatric care;
  • health services research;
  • emergency department;
  • utilization

Abstract. Objective: Tb compare the use of emergency medical care by elders in the United States in 1995 with that previously described for 1990.

Methods: A computerized billing database of 88 EDs in 21 states was retrospectively reviewed for 1995, comparing elder and nonelder patients, estimating national use of emergency medical services by elders, and comparing the 1995 data with previously published results for 1990.

Results: From 1990 to 1995, the number of ED visits in the United States increased from 92 million to 100 million. The number of visits made by patients aged 65 years or older increased from 13,639,400 (15%) to 15,666,300 (15.7%), but this increase did not reach statistical significance (p = 0.17). The admission rate for elder ED patients increased from 32% to 46% over the five-year interval (p < 0.01). This represents more than 7 million hospital admissions for elder patients in 1995. The rate of intensive care unit (ICU) admission for elders decreased from 7% to 6% over the five-year interval (p = 0.56), compared with 1.3% for nonelder patients for both years. Thirty percent of elder ED patients arrived by ambulance in 1990, compared with 33% in 1995 (p = 0.02). Based on 1995 data, elders comprised 39% of patients arriving by ambulance [odds ratio (OR) 4.75, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 4.71 to 4.79], 43% of all admissions (OR 6.59, 95% CI = 6.54 to 6.64), and 47% of ICU admissions (OR 5.00, 95% CI = 4.91 to 5.09). The comparable ORs in 1990 were 4.4, 5.6, and 5.5, respectively.

Conclusions: From 1990 to 1995, the overall number of ED visits increased. The rate of increase was somewhat greater for elder patients. The use of ambulance services also disproportionately grew among elder patients, as did the rate of hospital admission. The overall rate of ICU admission was stable, but actually fell modestly for elder patients. Of these changes, only the increase in the rate of hospital admission for elders reached statistical significance.