Navigating the boundaries of emergency department care: addressing the medical and social needs of patients who are homeless

Kelly M Doran, Anita A Vashi, Stephanie Platis, Leslie A Curry, Michael Rowe, Maureen Gang, Federico E Vaca
American Journal of Public Health 2013, 103 Suppl 2: S355-60

OBJECTIVES: We sought to understand interpersonal and systems-level factors relevant to delivering health care to emergency department (ED) patients who are homeless.

METHODS: We conducted semistructured interviews with emergency medicine residents from 2 residency programs, 1 in New York City and 1 in a medium-sized northeastern city, from February to September 2012. A team of researchers reviewed transcripts independently and coded text segments using a grounded theory approach. They reconciled differences in code interpretations and generated themes inductively. Data collection and analysis occurred iteratively, and interviews continued until theoretical saturation was achieved.

RESULTS: From 23 interviews, 3 key themes emerged: (1) use of pattern recognition in identifying and treating patients who are homeless, (2) variations from standard ED care for patients who are homeless, and (3) tensions in navigating the boundaries of ED social care.

CONCLUSIONS: Our study revealed practical and philosophical tensions in providing social care to patients in the ED who are homeless. Screening for homelessness in the ED and admission practices for patients who are homeless are important areas for future research and intervention with implications for health care costs and patient outcomes.

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