To comprehensively assess health care utilization in a population-based sample of homeless adults compared to matched controls under a system of universal health insurance.
Health care utilization was assessed for 1,165 homeless single adult men, single adult women, and adults in families and their age- and sex-matched low-income controls in Toronto, Canada from 2005-2009. Repeated measures general linear models (GLM) were used to calculate risk ratios and 95% confidence intervals.
Homeless participants had mean rates of 9.1 ambulatory care encounters (maximum=141.1), 2.0 emergency department encounters (maximum=104.9), 0.2 medical/surgical hospitalizations (maximum=14.9), and 0.1 psychiatric hospitalizations per person-year (maximum=4.8). Rate ratios comparing homeless participants to matched controls were 1.76 (95% CI: 1.58-1.96) for ambulatory care encounters, 8.48 (95% CI: 6.72-10.70) for emergency department encounters, 4.22 (95% CI: 2.99-5.94) for medical/surgical hospitalizations, and 9.27 (95% CI: 4.42-19.43) for psychiatric hospitalizations.
Within a system of universal health insurance, homeless people have substantially higher rates of emergency department and hospital use compared to general population controls. These differences are largely driven by the subset of homeless persons who are extremely high-intensity users of health services.
Health care utilization; Homeless persons; Matched controls; Ambulatory care; Hospitalization
To identify factors associated with inpatient hospitalizations among a population-based cohort of homeless adults in Toronto, Canada.
Participants were linked to administrative databases to capture hospital admissions during the study period (2005–2009). Logistic regression was used to identify predictors of medical/surgical and psychiatric hospitalizations.
Among 1,165 homeless adults, 20% had a medical/surgical hospitalization and 12% had a psychiatric hospitalization during the study period. These individuals contributed a total of 921 hospitalizations, of which 548 were medical/surgical and 373 were psychiatric. Independent predictors of medical/surgical hospitalization included birth in Canada, having a primary care provider, higher perceived external health locus of control, and lower health status. Independent predictors of psychiatric hospitalization included being a current smoker, having a recent mental health problem, and having a lower perceived internal health locus of control. Being accompanied by a partner or dependent children was protective for hospitalization.
Health care need was a strong predictor of medical/surgical and psychiatric hospitalizations. Some hospitalizations among homeless adults are potentially avoidable, while others represent an unavoidable use of health services.
Hospitalization; Homeless persons; Health care utilization
To identify predictors of emergency department (ED) use among a population-based prospective cohort of homeless adults in Toronto, Canada.
ED visit rates were assessed using administrative data (2005-2009). Logistic regression was used to identify predictors of ED use. Frequent users were defined as participants with rates in the top decile (≥4.7 visits per person-year).
Among 1,165 homeless adults, 892 (77%) had at least one ED visit during the study period. The average rate of ED visits was 2.0 visits/person-year, while frequent users averaged 12.1 visits/person-year. Frequent users accounted for 10% of the sample but contributed over 60% of visits. Predictors of frequent use in adjusted analyses included birth in Canada, higher monthly income, lower health status, perceived unmet mental health needs, and perceived external health locus of control from powerful others; being accompanied by a partner and/or dependent children had a protective effect on frequent use.
Among homeless adults with universal health insurance, a small subgroup accounts for the majority of visits to emergency services. Frequent use was driven by multiple predisposing, enabling, and need factors.
Health care utilization; Emergency department; Homeless persons
Little empiric research has investigated the interrelationship between homelessness and traumatic brain injury. The objectives of this study were to determine the rate, mechanisms and associated outcomes of traumatic brain injury among men in an urban homeless shelter.
We recruited participants from an urban men’s shelter in Toronto, Ontario. Researchers administered the Brain Injury Screening Questionnaire, a semistructured interview screening tool for brain injury. Demographic information and detailed histories of brain injuries were obtained. Participants with positive and negative screening results were compared, and the rates and mechanisms of injury were analyzed by age group.
A total of 111 men (mean age 54.2 ± standard deviation 11.5 yr; range 27–81 yr) participated. Nearly half (50 [45%]) of the respondents had a positive screening result for traumatic brain injury. Of these, 73% (35/48) reported experiencing their first injury before adulthood (< 18 yr), and 87% (40/46) reported a first injury before the onset of homelessness. Among those with a positive screening result, 33 (66%) reported sustaining at least one traumatic brain injury by assault, 22 (44%) by sports or another recreational activity, 21 (42%) by motor vehicle collision and 21 (42%) by a fall. A positive screening result was significantly associated with a lifetime history of arrest or mental illness and a parental history of substance abuse.
Multiple mechanisms contributed to high rates of traumatic brain injury within a sample of homeless men. Assault was the most common mechanism, with sports and recreation, motor vehicle collisions and falls also being reported frequently by the participants. Injury commonly predated the onset of homelessness, with most participants experiencing their first injury in childhood. Additional research is needed to understand the complex interactions among homelessness, traumatic brain injury, mental illness and substance use.
Improvements in the availability and effectiveness of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) have prolonged the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS. However, mortality rates have remained high among populations that encounter barriers to accessing and adhering to HAART, notably people who use drugs. This population consequently has a high burden of illness and complex palliative and supportive care needs, but is often unable to access these services due to anti-drug policies and discrimination. In Vancouver, Canada, the Dr. Peter Centre (DPC), which operates a 24-bed residential HIV/AIDS care facility, has sought to improve access to palliative and supportive care services by adopting a comprehensive harm reduction strategy, including supervised injection services. We undertook this study to explore how the integration of comprehensive harm reduction services into this setting shapes access to and engagement with care.
Qualitative interviews were conducted with 13 DPC residents between November 2010 and August 2011. Interviews made use of a semistructured interview guide which facilitated discussion regarding how the DPC Residence's model of care (a) shaped healthcare access, (b) influenced healthcare interactions and (c) impacted drug use practices and overall health. Interview transcripts were analysed thematically.
Participant accounts highlight how the harm reduction policy altered the structural-environmental context of healthcare services and thus mediated access to palliative and supportive care services. Furthermore, this approach fostered an atmosphere in which drug use could be discussed without the risk of punitive action, and thus increased openness between residents and staff. Finally, participants reported that the environmental supports provided by the DPC Residence decreased drug-related risks and improved health outcomes, including HAART adherence and survival.
This study highlights how adopting comprehensive harm reduction services can serve to improve access and equity in palliative and supportive care for drug-using populations.
HIV/AIDS; palliative care; supervised drug consumption services; harm reduction; highly active antiretroviral therapy; qualitative research
This study examined the association between immigrant status and current health in a representative sample of 1,189 homeless people in Toronto, Canada.
Multivariate regression analyses were performed to examine the relationship between immigrant status and current health status (assessed using the SF-12) among homeless recent immigrants (≤10 years since immigration), non-recent immigrants (>10 years since immigration), and Canadian-born individuals recruited at shelters and meal programs (response rate 73%).
After adjusting for demographic characteristics and lifetime duration of homelessness, recent immigrants were significantly less likely to have chronic conditions (RR 0.7, 95% CI 0.5 to 0.9), mental health problems (OR 0.4, 95% CI 0.2 to 0.7), alcohol problems (OR 0.2, 95% CI 0.1 to 0.5), and drug problems (OR 0.2, 95% CI 0.1 to 0.4) compared to non-recent immigrants and Canadian-born individuals. Recent immigrants were also more likely to have better mental health status (+3.4 points, SE ±1.6) and physical health status (+2.2 points, SE ±1.3) on scales with a mean of 50 and a standard deviation of 10 in the general population.
Homeless recent immigrants are a distinct group who are generally healthier and may have very different service needs compared to other homeless people.
homelessness; migration and health
Homeless persons experience excess mortality, but U.S.-based studies on this topic are outdated or lack information about causes of death. No studies have examined shifts in causes of death for this population over time.
We assessed all-cause and cause-specific mortality rates in a cohort of 28,033 adults aged 18 years or older who were seen at Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program between January 1, 2003, and December 31, 2008. Deaths were identified through probabilistic linkage to the Massachusetts death occurrence files. We compared mortality rates in this cohort to rates in the 2003–08 Massachusetts population and a 1988–93 cohort of homeless adults in Boston using standardized rate ratios with 95% confidence intervals.
1,302 deaths occurred during 90,450 person-years of observation. Drug overdose (n=219), cancer (n=206), and heart disease (n=203) were the major causes of death. Drug overdose accounted for one-third of deaths among adults <45 years old. Opioids were implicated in 81% of overdose deaths. Mortality rates were higher among whites than non-whites. Compared to Massachusetts adults, mortality disparities were most pronounced among younger individuals, with rates about 9-fold higher in 25–44 year olds and 4.5-fold higher in 45–64 year olds. In comparison to 1988–93, reductions in HIV deaths were offset by 3- and 2-fold increases in deaths due to drug overdose and psychoactive substance use disorders, resulting in no significant difference in overall mortality.
The all-cause mortality rate among homeless adults in Boston remains high and unchanged since 1988–93 despite a major interim expansion in clinical services. Drug overdose has replaced HIV as the emerging epidemic. Interventions to reduce mortality in this population should include behavioral health integration into primary medical care, public health initiatives to prevent and reverse drug overdose, and social policy measures to end homelessness.
To determine the sensitivity and specificity of a physician’s assessment that a patient “appears chronically ill” for the detection of poor health status.
The health status of 126 adult outpatients was determined using the 12-Item Short Form Health Survey (SF-12). Physician participants (n = 111 residents and faculty) viewed photographs of each patient participant and assessed whether or not the patient appeared chronically ill. For the entire group of physicians, the median sensitivity and specificity of “appearing chronically ill” for the detection of poor health status (defined as SF-12 physical health score below age group norms by at least 1 SD) were calculated. The study took place from February 2009 to January 2011.
Forty-two participants (33%) had an SF-12 physical health score ≥1 SD below age group norms, and 22 (18%) had a score ≥2 SD below age group norms. When poor health status was defined as an SF-12 physical score ≥1 SD below age group norms, the median sensitivity was 38.1% (IQR 28.6–47.6%), specificity 78.6% (IQR 69.0–84.0%), positive likelihood ratio 1.64 (IQR 1.42–2.15), and negative likelihood ratio 0.82 (IQR 0.74–0.87). For an SF-12 physical score ≥2 SD below age group norms, the median sensitivity was 45.5% (IQR 36.4–54.5%), specificity 76.9% (IQR 66.3–83.7%), positive likelihood ratio 1.77 (IQR 1.49–2.25), and negative likelihood ratio 0.75 (IQR 0.66–0.86).
Our study suggests that a physician’s assessment that a patient “appears chronically ill” has poor sensitivity and modest specificity for the detection of poor health status in adult outpatients. The associated likelihood ratios indicate that this assessment may have limited diagnostic value.
We examined the prevalence of substance use disorders among homeless and vulnerably housed persons in three Canadian cities and its association with unmet health care needs and access to addiction treatment using baseline data from the Health and Housing in Transition Study.
In 2009, 1191 homeless and vulnerably housed persons were recruited in Vancouver, Toronto, and Ottawa, Canada. Interviewer administered questionnaires collected data on socio-demographics, housing history, chronic health conditions, mental health diagnoses, problematic drug use (DAST-10≥6), problematic alcohol use (AUDIT≥20), unmet physical and mental health care needs, addiction treatment in the past 12 months. Three multiple logistic regression models were fit to examine the independent association of substance use with unmet physical health care need, unmet mental health care need, and addiction treatment.
Substance use was highly prevalent, with over half (53%) screening positive for the DAST-10 and 38% screening positive for the AUDIT. Problematic drug use was 29%, problematic alcohol use was lower at 16% and 7% had both problematic drug and alcohol use. In multiple regression models for unmet need, we found that problematic drug use was independently associated with unmet physical (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] 1.95; 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.43–2.64) and unmet mental (AOR 3.06; 95% CI 2.17–4.30) health care needs. Problematic alcohol use was not associated with unmet health care needs. Among those with problematic substance use, problematic drug use was associated with a greater likelihood of accessing addiction treatment compared to those with problematic alcohol use alone (AOR 2.32; 95% CI 1.18–4.54).
Problematic drug use among homeless and vulnerably housed individuals was associated with having unmet health care needs and accessing addiction treatment. Strategies to provide comprehensive health services including addiction treatment should be developed and integrated within community supported models of care.
Medical students’ attitudes and beliefs about homeless people may be shaped by the attitudes of their teachers and one of the most common sites for learning about homeless patients is the emergency department. The objective of this study was to determine if medical students in the preclinical and clinical years and emergency medicine faculty and residents have different attitudes and beliefs about homeless people.
The Health Professional Attitudes Toward the Homeless Inventory (HPATHI), was administered to all medical students, and emergency medicine physicians and residents at a large academic health sciences center in Canada. The HPATHI examines attitudes, interest and confidence on a 5-point Likert scale. Differences among groups were examined using the Kruskal Wallis test and Pearson’s chi-square test.
The HPATHI was completed by 371 individuals, for an overall response rate of 55%. Analysis of dichotomized median and percentage results revealed 5/18 statements were significant by both methods. On the attitudes subscales physicians and residents as a group were more negative for 2/9 statements and on the confidence subscale more positive for 1/4 statements. The interest subscale achieved overall statistical significance with decreased positive responses among physicians and residents compared to medical students in 2/5 statements.
This study revealed divergences in attitudes, interests and beliefs among medical students and emergency medicine physicians and residents. We offer strategies for training interventions and systemic support of emergency faculty. Emergency medicine physicians can examine their role in the development of medical students through both formal and informal teaching in the emergency department.
Bed bug infestations adversely affect health and quality of life, particularly among persons living in homeless shelters.
Until recently, bed bugs have been considered uncommon in the industrialized world. This study determined the extent of reemerging bed bug infestations in homeless shelters and other locations in Toronto, Canada. Toronto Public Health documented complaints of bed bug infestations from 46 locations in 2003, most commonly apartments (63%), shelters (15%), and rooming houses (11%). Pest control operators in Toronto (N = 34) reported treating bed bug infestations at 847 locations in 2003, most commonly single-family dwellings (70%), apartments (18%), and shelters (8%). Bed bug infestations were reported at 20 (31%) of 65 homeless shelters. At 1 affected shelter, 4% of residents reported having bed bug bites. Bed bug infestations can have an adverse effect on health and quality of life in the general population, particularly among homeless persons living in shelters.
Bed bugs; Parasites; Homeless persons; Urban health; Epidemiology; research
Homeless persons experience a high burden of health problems; yet, they face significant barriers in accessing health care. Less is known about unmet needs for care among vulnerably housed persons who live in poor-quality or temporary housing and are at high risk of becoming homeless. The objectives of this study were to examine the prevalence of and factors associated with unmet needs for health care in a population-based sample of homeless and vulnerably housed adults in three major cities within a universal health insurance system.
Participants were recruited at shelters, meal programs, community health centers, drop-in centers, rooming houses, and single room occupancy hotels in Vancouver, Toronto, and Ottawa, Canada, throughout 2009. Baseline interviews elicited demographic characteristics, health status, and barriers to health care. Logistic regression was used to identify factors associated with self-reported unmet needs for health care in the past 12 months.
Of the 1,181 participants included in the analysis, 445 (37%) reported unmet needs. In adjusted analyses, factors associated with a greater odds of reporting unmet needs were having employment in the past 12 months (AOR = 1.40, 95% CI = 1.03–1.91) and having ≥3 chronic health conditions (AOR = 2.17, 95% CI = 1.24–3.79). Having higher health-related quality of life (AOR = 0.21, 95% CI = 0.09–0.53), improved mental (AOR = 0.97, 95% CI = 0.96–0.98) or physical health (AOR = 0.98, 95% CI = 0.96–0.99), and having a primary care provider (AOR = 0.63, 95% CI = 0.46–0.85) decreased the odds of reporting unmet needs.
Homeless and vulnerably housed adults have a similar likelihood of experiencing unmet health care needs. Strategies to improve access to primary care and reduce barriers to accessing care in these populations are needed.
Access to care; Homelessness; Housing; Primary care; Public health policy
Antibiotic-associated diarrhea (AAD) and Clostridium difficile infection (CDI) are associated with high morbidity, mortality, and health care costs. Probiotics may mitigate the existing disease burden. We performed a systematic review and meta-analysis to evaluate the efficacy of co-administration of probiotics with antibiotics in preventing these adverse outcomes in adult inpatients.
Systematic searches of MEDLINE (1946 to May 2012), Embase (1980 to May 2012), and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials were undertaken on May 31, 2012, to identify relevant publications. We searched for randomized controlled trials, published in English, of adult inpatients who were receiving antibiotics and who were randomly assigned to co-administration of probiotics or usual care, with or without the use of placebo. Studies were included if they reported on AAD or CDI (or both) as outcomes. Data for predetermined criteria evaluating study characteristics, methods, and risk of bias were extracted. Trials were given a global rating of good, fair, or poor by at least 2 reviewers. Meta-analyses were performed using a random-effects model, and pooled relative risks (RRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were calculated.
Sixteen trials met the criteria for inclusion in this review. Four studies were of good quality, 5 were of fair quality, and 7 were of poor quality. Pooled analyses revealed significant reductions in the risks of AAD (RR 0.61, 95% CI 0.47 to 0.79) and CDI (RR 0.37, 95% CI 0.22 to 0.61) among patients randomly assigned to co-administration of probiotics. The number needed to treat for benefit was 11 (95% CI 8 to 20) for AAD and 14 (95% CI 9 to 50) for CDI. With subgroup analysis, significant reductions in rates of both AAD and CDI were retained in the subgroups of good-quality trials, the trials assessing a primarily Lactobacillus-based probiotic formulation, and the trials for which the follow-up period was less than 4 weeks.
Probiotics used concurrently with antibiotics reduce the risk of AAD and CDI
Health care office staff and providers may discriminate against people of low socioeconomic status, even in the absence of economic incentives to do so. We sought to determine whether socioeconomic status affects the response a patient receives when seeking a primary care appointment.
In a single unannounced telephone call to a random sample of family physicians and general practices (n = 375) in Toronto, Ontario, a male and a female researcher each played the role of a patient seeking a primary care physician. Callers followed a script suggesting either high (i.e., bank employee transferred to the city) or low (i.e., recipient of social assistance) socioeconomic status, and either the presence or absence of chronic health conditions (diabetes and low back pain). We randomized the characteristics of the caller for each office. Our primary outcome was whether the caller was offered an appointment.
The proportion of calls resulting in an appointment being offered was significantly higher when the callers presented themselves as having high socioeconomic status than when they presented as having low socioeconomic status (22.6% v.14.3%, p = 0.04) and when the callers stated the presence of chronic health conditions than when they did not (23.5% v. 12.8%, p = 0.008). In a model adjusted for all independent variables significant at a p value of 0.10 or less (presence of chronic health conditions, time since graduation from medical school and membership in the College of Family Physicians of Canada), high socioeconomic status was associated with an odds ratio of 1.78 (95% confidence interval 1.02–3.08) for the offer of an appointment. Socioeconomic status and chronic health conditions had independent effects on the likelihood of obtaining an appointment.
Within a universal health insurance system in which physician reimbursement is unaffected by patients’ socioeconomic status, people presenting themselves as having high socioeconomic status received preferential access to primary care over those presenting themselves as having low socioeconomic status.
In this study, cognitive interviewing methods were used to test targeted questionnaire items from a battery of quantitative instruments selected for a large multisite trial of supported housing interventions for homeless individuals with mental disorders. Most of the instruments had no published psychometrics in this population. Participants were 30 homeless adults with mental disorders (including substance use disorders) recruited from service agencies in Vancouver, Winnipeg, and Toronto, Canada. Six interviewers, trained in cognitive interviewing methods and using standard interview schedules, conducted the interviews. Questions and, in some cases, instructions, for testing were selected from existing instruments according to a priori criteria. Items on physical and mental health status, housing quality and living situation, substance use, health and justice system service use, and community integration were tested. The focus of testing was on relevance, comprehension, and recall, and on sensitivity/acceptability for this population. Findings were collated across items by site and conclusions validated by interviewers. There was both variation and similarity of responses for identified topics of interest. With respect to relevance, many items on the questionnaires were not applicable to homeless people. Comprehension varied considerably; thus, both checks on understanding and methods to assist comprehension and recall are recommended, particularly for participants with acute symptoms of mental illness and those with cognitive impairment. The acceptability of items ranged widely across the sample, but findings were consistent with previous literature, which indicates that “how you ask” is as important as “what you ask.” Cognitive interviewing methods worked well and elicited information crucial to effective measurement in this unique population. Pretesting study instruments, including standard instruments, for use in special populations such as homeless individuals with mental disorders is important for training interviewers and improving measurement, as well as interpreting findings.
Mental disorders; Homelessness; Survey methods; Cognitive interviewing; Pretesting
The aim was to review the international literature on the validity of self-report of cervical cancer screening, specifically of studies that made direct comparisons among women with and without social disadvantage, based on race/ethnicity, foreign-born status, language ability, income, or education.
The databases of Medline, EBM Reviews, and CINAHL from 1990 to 2011 were searched using relevant search terms. Articles eligible for data extraction documented the prevalence of cervical cancer screening based on both self-report and an objective measure for women both with and without at least one measure of social disadvantage. The report-to-record ratio, the ratio of the proportion of study subjects who report at least one screening test within a particular time frame to the proportion of study subjects who have a record of the same test within that time frame, was calculated for each subgroup.
Five studies met the extraction criteria. Subgroups were based on race/ethnicity, education, and income. In all studies, and across all subgroups, report-to-record ratios were greater than one, indicative of pervasive over-reporting.
The findings suggest that objective measures should be used by policymakers, researchers, and public-health practitioners in place of self-report to accurately determine cervical cancer screening rates.
vulnerable populations; early detection of cancer; vaginal smears; Pap test; reproducibility of results; validity
Homelessness and poverty are important social problems, and reducing the prevalence of homelessness and the incidence of injury and illness among people who are homeless would have significant financial, societal, and individual implications. Recent research has identified high rates of traumatic brain injury (TBI) among this population, but to date there has not been a review of the literature on this topic. The objective of this systematic review was to review the current state of the literature on TBI and homelessness in order to identify knowledge gaps and direct future research.
A systematic literature search was conducted in PsycINFO (1887–2012), Embase (1947–2012), and MEDLINE/Pubmed (1966–2012) to identify all published research studies on TBI and homelessness. Data on setting, sampling, outcome measures, and rate of TBI were extracted from these studies.
Eight research studies were identified. The rate of TBI among samples of persons who were homeless varied across studies, ranging from 8%-53%. Across the studies there was generally little information to adequately describe the research setting, sample sizes were small and consisted mainly of adult males, demographic information was not well described, and validated screening tools were rarely used. The methodological quality of the studies included was generally moderate and there was little information to illustrate that the studies were adequately powered or that study samples were representative of the source population. There was also an absence of qualitative studies in the literature.
The rate of TBI is higher among persons who are homeless as compared to the general population. Both descriptive and interventional studies of individuals who are homeless should include a psychometrically sound measure of history of TBI and related disability. Education of caregivers of persons who are at risk of becoming, or are homeless, should involve training on TBI. Dissemination of knowledge to key stakeholders such as people who are homeless, their families, and public policy makers is also advocated.
Traumatic brain injury; Homelessness; Systematic review
Supportive housing, defined as subsidized housing in conjunction with site-based social services, may help improve the health and residential stability of highly disadvantaged individuals. This study examined changes in health status, quality of life, substance use, health care utilization, and residential stability among 112 homeless and vulnerably housed individuals who applied to a supportive housing program in Toronto, Canada, from December 2005 to June 2007. Follow-up interviews were conducted every 6 months for 18 months. Comparisons were made between individuals who were accepted into the program (intervention) and those who were wait-listed (usual care) using repeated-measures analyses. Individuals who were accepted into the housing program experienced significantly greater improvements in satisfaction with living situation compared with individuals in the usual care group (time, F3,3,261 = 47.68, p < 0.01; group × time, F3,3,261 = 14.60, p < 0.01). There were no significant differences in other quality of life measures, health status, health care utilization, or substance use between the two groups over time. Significant improvement in residential stability occurred over time, independent of assigned housing group (time, F3,3,261 = 9.96, p < 0.01; group × time, F3,3,261 = 1.74, p = 0.17). The ability to examine the effects of supportive housing on homeless individuals was limited by the small number of participants who were literally homeless at baseline and by the large number of participants who gained stable housing during the study period regardless of their assigned housing status. Nonetheless, this study shows that highly disadvantaged individuals with a high prevalence of poor physical and mental health and substance use can achieve stable housing.
Supportive housing; Homelessness; Health status; Health care utilization