• geriatrics;
  • emergency medicine;
  • utilization

Abstract. Objectives: To the best of the authors knowledge, no nationally representative, population-based study has characterized the proportion of elders using the emergency department (ED) and factors associated with ED use by elders. This article describes the proportion of elder Medicare beneficiaries using the ED and identifies attributes associated with elder ED users as compared with nonusers. Methods: The 1993 Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey was used, a national, population-based, cross-sectional survey of Medicare beneficiaries linked with Medicare claims data. The study population was limited to 9,784 noninstitutionalized individuals aged 66 years or older. The Andersen model of health service utilization was used, which explains variation in ED use through a combination of predisposing (demographic and social), enabling (access to care), and need (comorbidity and health status) characteristics. Results: Eighteen percent of the sample used the ED at least once during 1993. Univariate analysis showed ED users were older; were less educated and lived alone; had lower income and higher Charlson Comorbidity Index scores; and were less satisfied with their ability to access care than nonusers (p < 0.01, chi-square). Logistic regression identified older age, less education, living alone, higher comorbidity scores, worse reported health, and increased difficulties with activities of daily living as factors associated with ED use (p < 0.05). Need characteristics predicted ED use with the greatest accuracy. Conclusions: The proportion of elder ED users is slightly higher than previously reported among Medicare beneficiaries. Need (comorbidity and health status) characteristics predict ED utilization with the greatest accuracy.