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A two-stage cross-sectional study was conducted in a 951-bed acute-care hospital: a first survey designed to determine the profile of patients aged ≥ 64 years needing supportive social/health care services, in which 38 patients discharged between June and July, 1992 (group 1) with social/health care problems that accounted for inappropriate hospitalization days participated, and a second survey designed to identify patients aged ≥ 65 years at high risk and thus facilitating the early intervention of social workers, in which 153 patients selected at random and interviewed between August and September, 1992 (group 2) participated. A significantly higher percentage of group 1 patients had no medical insurance, were admitted to hospital for treatment, lived alone, had been readmitted in the previous 6 months, suffered from dementia and/or cognitive impairment, presented with associated chronic illnesses, and showed lower Barthel index scores as compared to group 2 patients. In patients in group 2, hospital discharge was delayed due to the need of supportive social and health care services in only 27 patients. The percentage of agreement in the suitability of the resource provided was higher after (92.6%) than before the intervention (71.1%). The mean number of inappropriate hospitalization days was 3.5 days for patients in group 1 and 1.9 days for those in group 2 (p = 0.013). The early identification of elderly inpatients at high risk of needing additional supportive social and health care would help patients to find the most appropriate resource according to their individuals needs.