Health problems and service utilization in the homeless

J Health Care Poor Underserved. 1999 Nov;10(4):443-52. doi: 10.1353/hpu.2010.0717.


This study examined the health problems and utilization patterns of homeless individuals (n = 292) seeking medical services in a small, southern community. Results showed that the medical problems for which the homeless sought treatment were often (72.6 percent) a reoccurring problem for which treatment had been previously received. The most prevalent medical problem was upper respiratory infection (47 percent), likely exacerbated by the high rate (73 percent) of cigarette smoking found among the sample. More than half (51.4 percent) of the participants had used other medical services in the past month. Despite these high rates of utilization, the homeless may, in fact, be underutilizing appropriate preventive medical services, waiting until the medical problem becomes serious before seeking treatment, and overutilizing emergency rooms for nonemergency care. Community-based services sensitive to the needs of the homeless are likely to cost communities less money while providing better services to the homeless.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Community Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Health Status*
  • Homeless Persons / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Regression Analysis
  • Southeastern United States / epidemiology