National trends in emergency department use, care patterns, and quality of care of older adults in the United States

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2013 Jan;61(1):12-7. doi: 10.1111/jgs.12072.


Objectives: To describe trends in use of emergency departments (EDs) of older adults, reasons for visits, resource use, and quality of care.

Design: Analysis of the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey.

Setting: U.S. emergency departments from 2001 to 2009.

Participants: Individuals aged 65 and older visiting U.S. EDs.

Measurements: Emergency departments (ED) visits by patients aged 65 and older were identified, and demographic, clinical, and resource use characteristics and outcomes were assessed.

Results: From 2001 to 2009, annual visits increased from 15.9 to 19.8 million, a 24.5% increase. Numbers of outpatients grew less than hospital admissions (20.2% vs 33.1%); intensive care unit admissions increased 131.3%. Reasons for visits were unchanged during the study; the top complaints were chest pain, dyspnea, and abdominal pain. Resource intensity grew dramatically: computed tomography 167.0%, urinalyses 87.1%, cardiac monitoring 79.3%, intravenous fluid administration 59.8%, blood tests 44.1%, electrocardiogram use 43.4%, procedures 38.3%, and radiographic imaging 36.4%. From 2005 to 2009, magnetic resonance imaging use grew 84.6%. The proportion receiving a potentially inappropriate medication decreased from 9.6% in 2001 to 4.9% in 2009, whereas the proportion seen in the ED, discharged, and subsequently readmitted to the hospital rose from 2.0% to 4.2%.

Conclusion: Older adults accounted for 156 million ED visits in the United States from 2001 to 2009, with steady increases in visits and resource use across the study period. Hospital admissions grew faster than outpatient visits. If changes in primary care do not affect these trends, facilities will need to plan to accommodate increasingly greater demands for ED and hospital services.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Emergencies*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Care Surveys / methods*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Outpatients*
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • United States
  • Young Adult