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Ambulance Arrivals More Common Among Homeless

Last Updated: August 14, 2009.

Despite similar triage urgency and admission rates, homeless people who arrive at emergency departments are more likely than non-homeless people to be uninsured and arrive by ambulance, according to a study in the August issue of the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved.

FRIDAY, Aug. 14 (HealthDay News) -- Despite similar triage urgency and admission rates, homeless people who arrive at emergency departments are more likely than non-homeless people to be uninsured and arrive by ambulance, according to a study in the August issue of the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved.

Gary Oates, M.D., of West Virginia University in Morgantown, and colleagues analyzed data from the 2005 National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey in order to determine national use of emergency departments by homeless individuals. Homeless individuals were identified by self-report.

The researchers report that, during 2005, 472,922 of the 115 million visits to emergency departments in the United States were made by homeless patients. The majority of these patients were male (approximately 75 percent) and Caucasian (65 percent). A total of 55 percent of the homeless population was uninsured, and homeless individuals were found to be significantly more likely than the non-homeless population to be uninsured and to utilize an ambulance to arrive at the emergency department. The authors further note that, although there was no difference in triage urgency or hospital admission rate between the two populations, homeless individuals were more likely to undergo more diagnostic tests.

"Interventions and solutions for improving access to both primary care and urgent care for the non-emergent health problems of homeless people must be further investigated so they will not have to rely on emergency departments as the only venue for health care," Oates and colleagues conclude.

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