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Keywords:

  • geriatrics;
  • emergency medical services;
  • health care utilization;
  • predictors

Abstract

Objective: Elders (age ≥ 65 years) frequently use emergency medical services (EMS) for care. Understanding reasons for EMS use by elders may allow better management of EMS demand. To the best of the authors' knowledge, no studies have identified patient characteristics associated with EMS use by elders. This study aimed to identify patient attributes associated with elder EMS users. Methods: This was a prospective cohort study of non-institutionalized elders presenting to an urban university hospital emergency department. Nine hundred thirty elder patients completed the survey. The authors asked patients about access to care, health beliefs, and reasons for requesting EMS assistance. Univariate and logistic regression were used to identify predictors of EMS use. Results: The sample had a mean age of 76 years; 37% were male; 79% were African American. Thirty percent arrived via EMS. Sixty-five percent of those transported and 46% of those not transported by EMS were admitted to the hospital (p < 0.001). Reported reasons for using EMS transport included immobility (33%), illness (22%), request by others (21%), instruction from health care providers (10%), and lack of transportation (10%). Logistic regression identified symptom onset within four hours of seeking care (OR = 3.1), age ≥ 85 years (OR = 1.63), increased deficiencies in activities of daily living (OR = 1.40 per deficiency), worse physical functioning (OR = 1.14/10 points), and worse social functioning (OR = 1.06/10 points) as factors associated with EMS use. Conclusions: Elders report using EMS because of immobility, perceived medical needs, or requests by others. Similarly, the presence of acute illness symptoms, older age, and poor social and physical function, rather than health beliefs, predict EMS use among elders. These factors must be considered when managing the demand for EMS services.