Introduction: Overuse of acute care services, particularly emergency department (ED) use, is an important topic for healthcare providers and policy makers within Canada and abroad. Prior work has shown that frail elderly patients with complex medical needs and limited personal and social resources are heavy users of ED services and are often admitted when they present to the ED. Updated information on the most effective strategies to avert ED presentation and hospital admission focused specifically on elderly patients is needed. Methods: This systematic review addressed the question: what interventions have demonstrated effectiveness in decreasing ED use and hospital admissions in elderly patients? Comprehensive literature searches were conducted in databases including Ovid Medline, EMBASE, CINAHL, and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials with no language or date restrictions. Citations were limited to interventional studies. Grey literature and reference list searches, as well as communication with experts in the field were performed. Consensus or a third reviewer resolved any disagreements. Original research regarding interventions conducted in populations 65 years or older with acute illness, either living in community or facility-living were included. Primary outcomes were ED visits and hospital admissions. Secondary outcomes included: mortality, cost, and patient-reported outcomes such as health-related quality of life and functional status. Results: Forty-three relevant studies were identified including 22 randomized controlled trials (RCT), 2 cluster-RCT, 2 trials with non-random allocation, 4 before-after studies, 6 quasi-experimental studies, and 7 cohort studies. Intervention settings included: home visits (22), long-term care (7), outpatient or primary care clinics (8), and ED (3) or inpatient (3). Data characterization revealed that home-based, outpatient and/or primary care-based strategies reduced ED visits and hospitalizations, particularly those which included comprehensive geriatric assessments, home visits or regular face-to-face contact and interdisciplinary teams. Hospital-based models generally showed no difference in ED or inpatient service utilization. There was, however, considerable variability across individual studies with respect to reporting of outcomes, statistical analyses performed, and overall risk of bias. Conclusion: Various interventional strategies have been studied to avert ED presentation and hospital admission for frail elderly patients. More rigorous methodology and standardization of outcome measures is needed to quantitatively assess the effects of these programs.
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