The Effect of Aging Populations on Ambulance Services

It is a well known fact in many countries that the elderly are disproportionately high users of ambulance services. Numerous studies such as those undertaken by Clark & FitzGerald (2012), Lowthian et al. (2011) and Downing & Wilson (2005) have outlined possible reasons for this trend including: the higher tendency for elderly people to have accidents, such as falls; the inclination of many geriatrics to call emergency services, rather than utilizing non-emergency transportation options; and the fact that many elderly people live in rural regions and consequently have only sporadic access to primary healthcare, which in turn results in diminished overall physical condition.

A Brief Discussion Regarding the Utilization of Ambulance Services by the Elderly

The high utilization of emergency ambulance services by the elderly is believed to be a growing issue, mainly owing to the increasing geriatric population in many countries. In Australia for example, the elderly population which currently comprises a mere 12 percent of total residents in most states, expends one third of emergency transportation services and two thirds of non-emergency services (Clark & FitzGerald, 2012).

As the percentage of people over the age of 65 is expected to increase to over 20.3 percent by the year 2031 it can be noted that emergency facilities will, at some point, become unable to provide adequate transportation services. This situation is also being reported in other countries such as Canada and the United States with emergency services in many areas already under extreme amounts of pressure.

Possible Solutions Regarding the Overutilization of Ambulance Services by the Elderly

Although the fact that geriatrics are more prone to accidents and illnesses is something that generally can’t be controlled, other factors such as: the utilization of emergency services in place of non-emergency transport options; and the inaccessibility of primary health care to the aged population in many rural areas, can be altered.

Many nations have found that the implementation of non-emergency transportation options, allows for the reduction of pressures placed on emergency services. In regions throughout America complex non-emergency transportation programs are utilized, which allow patients to schedule and organize a right-sized, (often) government subsidized form of non-emergency transportation. This transportation permits elderly people in both rural and urban areas to access both primary and specialist medical care, hence improving the overall standard of health.

Another way of reducing pressure on emergency ambulance services is for ambulance dispatch firms to better educate their operators, regarding the available non-emergency transportation and what exactly constitutes an emergency. Numerous emergency departments throughout the United States have found that a large amount of elderly patients arriving in first responder ambulance vehicles were actually not emergency patients. This issue could potentially be averted via a more thorough questioning process at the dispatch end of operations.

It can therefore be noted that although the increasing population of people over the age of 65 are putting an increasing amount of pressure on existing emergency transportation services, there are options available, to help ensure that suitable transport options remain available. It is believed however, that immediate action is required in many regions, to ensure that this issue doesn’t escalate to a point where it is unmanageable.