A comparison of emergency department utilization by elderly and younger adult patients presenting to three hospitals in Hong Kong

Int J Emerg Med. 2009 Apr;2(1):19-24. doi: 10.1007/s12245-009-0087-x. Epub 2009 Feb 14.


Background: The elderly population is increasing in absolute and relative terms in most developed countries, and this is protected to have a major impact on the delivery of health care, particularly acute and emergency services. The aim of this study is to describe the pattern of utilization of emergency department (ED) services in Hong Kong by the elderly and to compare it to the utilization by younger adults.

Methods: Data on ED visits to three acute hospitals in the eastern New Territories were retrieved from a central computerized database of ED attendances. Data on all adult patients (aged > or =15 years) who attended the three EDs in 2006 were analyzed retrospectively. Patients aged 15 to 64 years were defined as younger adults; patients aged > or =65 years were defined as elderly. The attendance rate, ED consultation process, hospital admission rate and disease pattern of the two age groups were compared.

Results: Elderly patients required significantly more emergency care resources than younger adults. Elderly ED patients were brought to hospital more frequently by ambulance (42.8% vs. 14.8%, p < 0.0001) and required hospital admission more often (45.0% vs. 15.5%, p < 0.0001) than younger adults. A significantly higher proportion of elderly patients were triaged as being in the critical, emergency or urgent categories compared to younger adults (44.4% vs. 18.2%, p < 0.0001). Laboratory tests, radiography and CT scanning were performed on elderly patients more frequently than on younger adults (p < 0.0001), and their lengths of stay in EDs and emergency wards were significantly longer (p < 0.0001). Neurological symptoms and chest pain were the most common presenting symptoms in elderly ED patients.

Conclusion: With the foreseeable rapid growth of the elderly population, ED utilization by the elderly will increase. Health service delivery, including that in the ED, needs to take account of the specific features and requirements of the elderly population in each locale.