Emergency Department Utilization by Adolescents Experiencing Homelessness in Massachusetts. Academic Article uri icon


  • BACKGROUND: Adolescents who experience homelessness rely heavily on emergency departments (EDs) for their health care. OBJECTIVES: This study estimates the relationship between homelessness and ED use and identifies the sociodemographic, clinical, visit-level, and contextual factors associated with multiple ED visits among adolescents experiencing homelessness in Massachusetts. RESEARCH DESIGN: We used the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project State Emergency Department Databases on all outpatient ED visits in Massachusetts from 2011 to 2016. We included all adolescents who were 11-21 years old. We estimated the association between homelessness and ED utilization and investigated predictors of multiple ED visits among adolescents who experience homelessness using multivariate logistic and negative binomial regressions. RESULTS: Our study included 1,196,036 adolescents, of whom about 0.8% experienced homelessness and this subset of adolescents accounted for 2.2% of all ED visits. Compared with those with stable housing, adolescents who were homeless were mostly covered through Medicaid (P<0.001), diagnosed with 1 or more comorbidities (P<0.001), and visited the ED at least once for reasons related to mental health; substance and alcohol use; pregnancy; respiratory distress; urinary and sexually transmitted infections; and skin and subcutaneous tissue diseases (P<0.001). Homeless experience was associated with multiple ED visits (incidence rate ratio=1.18; 95% confidence intervals, 1.16-1.19) and frequent ED use (4 or more ED visits) (adjusted odds ratio=2.21; 95% confidence interval, 2.06-2.37). Factors related to clinical complexity and Medicaid compared with lack of coverage were also significant predictors of elevated ED utilization within the cohort experiencing homelessness. CONCLUSIONS: Adolescents who experience homelessness exhibit higher ED use compared with those with stable housing, particularly those with aggravated comorbidities and chronic conditions. Health policy interventions to integrate health care, housing, and social services are essential to transition adolescents experiencing homelessness to more appropriate community-based care.

published proceedings

  • Med Care

altmetric score

  • 7.58

author list (cited authors)

  • Giannouchos, T. V., Gary, J. C., Anyatonwu, S., & Kum, H.

citation count

  • 2

complete list of authors

  • Giannouchos, Theodoros V||Gary, Jodie C||Anyatonwu, Sophia||Kum, Hye-Chung

publication date

  • April 2021