Increases in the rate of emergency department visits by U.S. residents ages 65 and older increased by 34% from 1993 to 2003, raising questions about hospital planning as the U.S. population ages, according to a study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.
Researchers found that increases in ED visits could not be attributed to an upswing in frivolous visits for conditions that could have been treated more appropriately in another care setting. To the contrary, the study authors wrote that older people are experiencing more emergencies.
The study also found that there was a growing disparity in the rate at which elderly blacks and elderly whites visited the ED, a trend that researchers said could be attributed to higher incidences of chronic disease among blacks.
The authors warned that if ED visits by elderly people continues to increase at the current rate, the number of ED visits by that population group could more than double by 2013. Researchers urged health care policy makers to consider that possibility as they study strategies to address overcrowding in EDs and hospitals (Roberts et al., Annals of Emergency Medicine, June 2008).