News Brief

Report: 63% of elderly visited ED last year

If you are seeing a dramatic increase in elderly patients, you’re not alone. According to a new report from the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the elderly have the highest rate for ED visits of any group: 63% of those older than 75 went to an ED at least once in 1999.

This statistic is part of a survey of ED use in 1999 released by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.

Here are other key findings:

• There were 103 million visits to emergency departments in 1999, an increase of 14% since 1992. This comprises 35,000 additional patients each day.

• More than one-third of visits were related to injuries. Almost 30% of injuries seen in the ED occurred at home.

• Stomach and abdominal pain, chest pain, and fever were the most common reasons for an ED visit.

• There were 1.4 million visits due to adverse drug reactions or other complications from medical care in 1999, up 80% from 1992.

• Medications were used in 73% of all visits.

• From 1992 to 1999, the number of drugs prescribed increased by 34%.

• Older patients were more likely to have medications ordered or prescribed for them.

• Medication for pain relief was the most frequent class of drugs administered to children under 15 years of age. Pain medications were given more frequently than antibiotics, the use of which has been declining since 1993.

• Patients with Medicaid were more likely to use the ED than those who had other forms of insurance or were without insurance.

• The African-American population used the ED at about twice the rate of the white population in 1999. Between 1992 and 1999, the visit rate for black persons 65 years of age and over rose by 59% but did not change for white persons in this age group.

• About 14% of patients arrived at the ED by ambulance.

• On average, patients waited about 49 minutes to see the doctor, but this varied considerably by hospital location and size of the ED.

• About 17% of ED visits were deemed to be emergent, that is the patient should be seen within 15 minutes of arrival. Another 30% of the visits were classified as urgent enough for the patient to need to see the doctor within an hour.

• About 13% of ED patients were admitted to the hospital. Among those with a primary diagnosis of heart disease, 60% were admitted.


A complete copy of the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey: 1999 Emergency Department Summary can be downloaded from the CDC web site at no charge. Go to, and click on "Data and Statistics," "National Center for Health Statistics," "NHCS," "National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey," and "Emergency Department Visit Data."