Background: Many people rely on EDs for routine health care. Often, however, screening and counseling for health risks are not provided.
Objective: To determine prevalence rates of chronic disease and injury risk factors and access to routine health care in a random sample of ED patients in 3 cities.
Methods: A prospective survey was conducted at 3 hospital EDs in Akron, OH, Boston, MA, and Denver, CO. A modified version of the national Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey was administered by trained researchers to a convenience sample of non-critically ill patients during randomly selected shifts.
Results: Of 1,143 eligible patients, 923 (81%) agreed to participate. Their mean age was 39 (range = 17-96) years. Most were female (58%), white (60%), and unmarried (68%). Thirty-eight percent had no access to primary care. Injury-prone behaviors were prevalent: 53% of the respondents did not wear seat belts regularly; 15% had no working smoke detector; 3% kept loaded, unlocked handguns in their homes; 11% had attempted suicide; 23% had a positive CAGE screen for alcoholism; 3% had operated a motor vehicle in the preceding month while alcohol-intoxicated; and 11% had ridden in an automobile with an intoxicated driver. Cancer and chronic disease risks were also common: 48% smoked; 16% had not received a blood pressure check in the preceding year; and 4% reported unsafe sexual practices. Among women aged > 50 years, 42% had not received a Pap test in the prior 2 years and 14% had never had mammography. Many prevalence rates and access to care varied among the 3 sites. However, for most risk factors, prevalence rates did not differ in patients with and without access to primary health care.
Conclusions: ED patients have high rates of injury and chronic disease risks, and many have no other source of routine health care. Research is needed to determine whether ED-based programs, designed to reduce injury and chronic disease risks, are feasible and cost-effective.