Oct. 21—Half of the Medicare-eligible population visit emergency departments (EDs) each year, according to new federal data.

Americans older than 64 used EDs 19.6 million times in 2009 to 2010 for a rate of 511 per 1,000 people in that age group, according to data released by the National Center for Health Statistics. The rate of annual ED visits roles steadily with age, with patients older than 84 visiting at an annual rate of 832 per 1,000 people.

The rates were derived from national samples. The high rate of ED use could have increasing significance, the report’s authors noted, because the share of the U.S. population over 64 years old and their total numbers are steadily increasing. For instance, the Medicare-eligible population increased from 35 million to 40 million, or 15 percent, from 2000 to 2010.

Fewer than one-third (29 percent) of ED visits by the elderly were driven by injuries, while 14 percent were specifically related to falls. The rate of falls driving ED visits doubled from 10 percent for people age 65 to 74 to 20 percent among patients older than 84 years old.

More than one-third of ED visits (36 percent) by patients older than 64 years old resulted in hospitalization, but the likelihood of hospitalization rose with age. Forty-three percent of patients older than 84 years old were hospitalized as a result of their ED visit.

The rate of ED patients coming from a nursing home setting varied sharply by age. Five percent of ED patients 65 to 74 years old care from nursing homes, while 22 percent of patients older than 84 came from those care settings.

More than half (54 percent) of the patients older than 84 years old arrived at the ED by ambulance, while 29 percent of patients in their first 10 years of Medicare eligibility arrived for emergency care in that manner.

Publication Date: Monday, October 21, 2013