Priorities of Care Among Older Adults in the Emergency Department: A Cross-sectional Study

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Emergency departments (EDs) are an increasingly important site of care for older adults, but little is known about the priorities of emergency care in this population. We sought to describe and rank priorities of care among older adults receiving care in the ED.


We conducted a cross-sectional study of cognitively intact patients aged 65 years and older receiving care in two U.S. EDs. Participants provided up to three open-ended responses to a single question asking what would make their ED visit successful, useful, or valuable. A literature review and patient responses were used to generate priority categories and larger metacategories. Each response was then assigned to one of the categories by independent reviewers. We report the percentage of patients identifying a priority in each category and metacategory and the relative weight of each category based on the frequency and order of priorities provided by patients.


A total of 185 participants provided 351 priorities. Twenty-four categories and seven metacategories were identified. Sixty-two percent (N = 114) of participants reported at least one priority in the “evaluation, treatment, and outcomes” metacategory. Of these, the most common priorities included treatment of the medical problem (n = 37, 20%), accurate diagnosis (n = 36, 19%), competent staff and provider (n = 28, 15%), and desirable health outcome (n = 24, 13%). The second and third most common metacategories were “timely care” (n = 67, 36%), and “service” (n = 38, 21%). Nineteen patients (10%) expressed a desire to be discharged; one patient (1%) expressed a desire for admission. The ranking of weighted priorities were identical to the unweighted rank order by frequency.


Among a sample of cognitively intact older ED patients, the most common priorities were related to the accuracy and efficiency of the medical evaluation. These priorities should be considered by those attempting to improve the emergency care of older adults.

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