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Researchers Produce First Nationwide Study of Homeless in ERs
Date:8/7/2009

MORGANTOWN, W.Va., Aug. 7 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The first national study of homeless people's use of emergency rooms finds that homeless patients are more likely to arrive at the hospital by ambulance and more than twice as likely to be uninsured.

One-third of homeless patients arrived by ambulance -- at an estimated cost of almost $67 million, according to the researchers.

Analyzing almost half a million emergency room visits by homeless people, West Virginia University doctors also found that the homeless were more likely to receive more than two diagnostic tests -- a higher number compared with other patients.

At the same time, WVU researchers found no difference between the urgency of the medical emergencies in comparing both populations. The study is published in the current issue of the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved.

"The thing that surprised me the most was that acuity levels -- how sick the person was -- and hospital admissions rates were similar in comparing the homeless population to people with residences," said lead author Gary Oates, M.D., a WVU emergency medicine physician. "The sicker you are, the sooner you need to be seen by a doctor when you come to the emergency department. And the homeless patients were no sicker than others, looking at total visits to emergency departments nationwide."

Despite that, more diagnostic tests were ordered than for other patients. "This may be because emergency physicians needed to do baseline blood work because the homeless patient didn't have a primary care doctor," Dr. Oates explained. "Or it could be because the homeless population may be more prone to falls or injuries from assault -- injuries that may require x-rays."

Studying emergency room use is important in the context of the current national healthcare reform effort, Oates said.

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SOURCE West Virginia University Health Sciences Center
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