Emergency demand and repeat attendances by older patients

Intern Med J. 2013 May;43(5):554-60. doi: 10.1111/imj.12061.


Background: Population ageing is projected to impact on health services utilisation including Emergency Departments (ED), with older patients reportedly having a high rate of return visits. We describe and compare patterns in ED utilisation between older and younger adults, and quantify the proportion and rate of return visits.

Methods: Population-based retrospective analysis of metropolitan Melbourne public hospital ED data, 1999/2000 to 2008/2009. Numbers of patients, presentations, re-presentations and rates per 1000 population were calculated, with comparison of older (aged ≥ 70 years) and younger (15-69 years) attendances.

Results: Population growth in each age group was similar over the study period, yet ED presentations rose by 72% for older adults compared with a 59% increase for younger adults. Rates per 1000 population rose with increasing age. Of the population aged ≥ 70 years, 39% presented to ED compared with 17% of the population aged 15-69 years in 2008/2009. Twenty-seven per cent of the increase in older adult presentations was driven by a cohort who attended ≥ 4 times in 2008/2009. The number of older patients presenting ≥ 4 times doubled over the decade, contributing to 23% of all older presentations in 2008/2009. ED length of stay rose with increasing age; 69% of older adults remained in ED for ≥ 4 h compared with 39% of younger adults in 2008/2009. The number of older adult ED hospital admissions doubled over the decade.

Conclusions: Older patients are disproportionately represented among ED attendances. They also have an increasing propensity to re-present to ED, indicating a need to identify the clinical, social and health system-related risk factors for re-attendance by specific patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cohort Studies
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / trends*
  • Emergency Treatment / methods
  • Emergency Treatment / trends*
  • Female
  • Health Services Needs and Demand / trends*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Patient Readmission / trends*
  • Population Surveillance / methods*
  • Retrospective Studies