Rates of visits by the elderly to emergency rooms are outpacing those of other groups, which could lead to “catastrophic overcrowding,” according to a study this week in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.
“Seniors are using the emergency department more and more frequently, and given the needs of this population and the nature of their medical problems, the current state of overcrowding is likely to continue to escalate dramatically,” Dr. Mary Pat McKay of The George Washington University Medical Center said in a press release. “These patients tend to be sicker and are more likely to be admitted from the emergency department to the hospital, but with many hospitals running a deficit of inpatient beds, I don’t see where these patients are going to go.”
Researchers studied ER visits from 1993 to 2003, and found that visits per 100 people 65 and older increased faster than the visit rate for any other age group, with an overall increase of 26 percent during the study period.
“People aged 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population. As emergency patients, they use the most resources, stay the longest, and are the most likely to be admitted to the hospital of all emergency patients. Researchers conclude that emergency department visits in the United States for patients between 65 and 74 could nearly double from 6.4 million in 2003 to 11.7 million by 2013,” according to the release.
AARP Policy Director John Rother called on elected officials to “heed the warnings” of the report and recognize that the health care system must deliver appropriate, affordable care.
“The trends released today underscore the need to make sure emergency departments can meet the demand for care by older people, but we also need a better understanding of why emergency room use by older people is on the rise and why these patients may not be getting care from their personal physicians,” he said in the release.
The study suggests older Americans are having more genuine emergencies, rather than increasingly visiting the emergency department.
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Jeff Raymond, Medical Writer