Population aging and emergency departments: visits will not increase, lengths-of-stay and hospitalizations will

Health Aff (Millwood). 2013 Jul;32(7):1306-12. doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2012.0951.


With US emergency care characterized as "at the breaking point," we studied how the aging of the US population would affect demand for emergency department (ED) services and hospitalizations in the coming decades. We applied current age-specific ED visit rates to the population structure anticipated by the Census Bureau to exist through 2050. Our results indicate that the aging of the population will not cause the number of ED visits to increase any more than would be expected from population growth. However, the data do predict increases in visit lengths and the likelihood of hospitalization. As a result, the aggregate amount of time patients spend in EDs nationwide will increase 10 percent faster than population growth. This means that ED capacity will have to increase by 10 percent, even without an increase in the number of visits. Hospital admissions from the ED will increase 23 percent faster than population growth, which will require hospitals to expand capacity faster than required by raw population growth alone.

Keywords: Business Of Health; Elderly; Hospitals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / trends*
  • Forecasting
  • Health Services Needs and Demand / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Services Needs and Demand / trends
  • Hospital Bed Capacity / statistics & numerical data
  • Hospitalization / statistics & numerical data*
  • Hospitalization / trends*
  • Humans
  • Length of Stay / statistics & numerical data*
  • Length of Stay / trends*
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Population Dynamics / statistics & numerical data*
  • Population Dynamics / trends*
  • Population Growth
  • Referral and Consultation / statistics & numerical data
  • Time Factors
  • United States
  • Utilization Review