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1.  Mortality Among Homeless Adults in Boston: Shifts in Causes of Death Over a 15-year Period 
JAMA internal medicine  2013;173(3):189-195.
Homeless persons experience excess mortality, but U.S.-based studies on this topic are outdated or lack information about causes of death.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.
PMCID: PMC3713619  PMID: 23318302
2.  Is “Appearing Chronically Ill” a Sign of Poor Health? A Study of Diagnostic Accuracy 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(11):e79934.
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.
PMCID: PMC3842283  PMID: 24312192
3.  Substance Use and Access to Health Care and Addiction Treatment among Homeless and Vulnerably Housed Persons in Three Canadian Cities 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e75133.
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.
PMCID: PMC3790780  PMID: 24124470
4.  Attitudes towards homeless people among emergency department teachers and learners: a cross-sectional study of medical students and emergency physicians 
BMC Medical Education  2013;13:112.
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.
PMCID: PMC3765267  PMID: 23968336
5.  A cross-sectional observational study of unmet health needs among homeless and vulnerably housed adults in three Canadian cities 
BMC Public Health  2013;13:577.
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.
PMCID: PMC3691921  PMID: 23764199
Access to care; Homelessness; Housing; Primary care; Public health policy
6.  Probiotics for the prevention of antibiotic-associated diarrhea and Clostridium difficile infection among hospitalized patients: systematic review and meta-analysis 
Open Medicine  2013;7(2):e56-e67.
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
PMCID: PMC3863752  PMID: 24348885
7.  Severe edema and elevated CA 125 in a 56-year-old woman 
PMCID: PMC3314038  PMID: 22410373
8.  The effect of socioeconomic status on access to primary care: an audit study 
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.
PMCID: PMC3612171  PMID: 23439620
9.  Severe anemia from bedbugs 
PMCID: PMC2734207  PMID: 19720710
10.  Cognitive Interviewing Methods for Questionnaire Pre-Testing in Homeless Persons with Mental Disorders 
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.
PMCID: PMC3284589  PMID: 22109879
Mental disorders; Homelessness; Survey methods; Cognitive interviewing; Pretesting
11.  Does social disadvantage affect the validity of self-report for cervical cancer screening? 
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.
PMCID: PMC3558311  PMID: 23378784
vulnerable populations; early detection of cancer; vaginal smears; Pap test; reproducibility of results; validity
12.  Science and ideology 
Open Medicine  2007;1(2):e99-e101.
PMCID: PMC2802009  PMID: 20101301
13.  Traumatic brain injury among people who are homeless: a systematic review 
BMC Public Health  2012;12:1059.
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.
PMCID: PMC3538158  PMID: 23216886
Traumatic brain injury; Homelessness; Systematic review
14.  Health Status, Quality of Life, Residential Stability, Substance Use, and Health Care Utilization among Adults Applying to a Supportive Housing Program 
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.
PMCID: PMC3232412  PMID: 21638115
Supportive housing; Homelessness; Health status; Health care utilization
15.  Bed Bug Infestations in an Urban Environment 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2005;11(4):533-538.
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.
PMCID: PMC3320350  PMID: 15829190
Bed bugs; Parasites; Homeless persons; Urban health; Epidemiology; research
16.  Ending homelessness among people with mental illness: the At Home/Chez Soi randomized trial of a Housing First intervention in Toronto 
BMC Public Health  2012;12:787.
The At Home/Chez Soi (AH/CS) Project is a randomized controlled trial of a Housing First intervention to meet the needs of homeless individuals with mental illness in five cities across Canada. The objectives of this paper are to examine the approach to participant recruitment and community engagement at the Toronto site of the AH/CS Project, and to describe the baseline demographics of participants in Toronto.
Homeless individuals (n = 575) with either high needs (n = 197) or moderate needs (n = 378) for mental health support were recruited through service providers in the city of Toronto. Participants were randomized to Housing First interventions or Treatment as Usual (control) groups. Housing First interventions were offered at two different mental health service delivery levels: Assertive Community Treatment for high needs participants and Intensive Case Management for moderate needs participants. Demographic data were collected via quantitative questionnaires at baseline interviews.
The effectiveness of the recruitment strategy was influenced by a carefully designed referral system, targeted recruitment of specific groups, and an extensive network of pre-existing services. Community members, potential participants, service providers, and other stakeholders were engaged through active outreach and information sessions. Challenges related to the need for different sectors to work together were resolved through team building strategies. Randomization produced similar demographic, mental health, cognitive and functional impairment characteristics in the intervention and control groups for both the high needs and moderate needs groups. The majority of participants were male (69%), aged >40 years (53%), single/never married (69%), without dependent children (71%), born in Canada (54%), and non-white (64%). Many participants had substance dependence (38%), psychotic disorder (37%), major depressive episode (36%), alcohol dependence (29%), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (23%), and mood disorder with psychotic features (21%). More than two-thirds of the participants (65%) indicated some level of suicidality.
Recruitment at the Toronto site of AH/CS project produced a sample of participants that reflects the diverse demographics of the target population. This study will provide much needed data on how to best address the issue of homelessness and mental illness in Canada.
PMCID: PMC3538556  PMID: 22978561
17.  Housing Characteristics and their Influence on Health-Related Quality of Life in Persons Living with HIV in Ontario, Canada: Results from the Positive Spaces, Healthy Places Study 
AIDS and Behavior  2012;16(8):2361-2373.
Although lack of housing is linked with adverse health outcomes, little is known about the impacts of the qualitative aspects of housing on health. This study examined the association between structural elements of housing, housing affordability, housing satisfaction and health-related quality of life over a 1-year period. Participants were 509 individuals living with HIV in Ontario, Canada. Regression analyses were conducted to examine relationships between housing variables and physical and mental health-related quality of life. We found significant cross-sectional associations between housing and neighborhood variables—including place of residence, housing affordability, housing stability, and satisfaction with material, meaningful and spatial dimensions of housing—and both physical and mental health-related quality of life. Our analyses also revealed longitudinal associations between housing and neighborhood variables and health-related quality of life. Interventions that enhance housing affordability and housing satisfaction may help improve health-related quality of life of people living with HIV.
PMCID: PMC3481053  PMID: 22903401
Housing; Housing affordability; Housing satisfaction; Health-related quality of life; HIV
18.  Harm reduction services as a point-of-entry to and source of end-of-life care and support for homeless and marginally housed persons who use alcohol and/or illicit drugs: a qualitative analysis 
BMC Public Health  2012;12:312.
Homeless and marginally housed persons who use alcohol and/or illicit drugs often have end-of-life care needs that go unmet due to barriers that they face to accessing end-of-life care services. Many homeless and marginally housed persons who use these substances must therefore rely upon alternate sources of end-of-life care and support. This article explores the role of harm reduction services in end-of-life care services delivery to homeless and marginally housed persons who use alcohol and/or illicit drugs.
A qualitative case study design was used to explore end-of-life care services delivery to homeless and marginally housed persons in six Canadian cities. A key objective was to explore the role of harm reduction services. 54 health and social services professionals participated in semi-structured qualitative interviews. All participants reported that they provided care and support to this population at end-of-life.
Harm reduction services (e.g., syringe exchange programs, managed alcohol programs, etc.) were identified as a critical point-of-entry to and source of end-of-life care and support for homeless and marginally housed persons who use alcohol and/or illicit drugs. Where possible, harm reduction services facilitated referrals to end-of-life care services for this population. Harm reduction services also provided end-of-life care and support when members of this population were unable or unwilling to access end-of-life care services, thereby improving quality-of-life and increasing self-determination regarding place-of-death.
While partnerships between harm reduction programs and end-of-life care services are identified as one way to improve access, it is noted that more comprehensive harm reduction services might be needed in end-of-life care settings if they are to engage this underserved population.
PMCID: PMC3355019  PMID: 22545586
19.  Is Looking Older than One’s Actual Age a Sign of Poor Health? 
Physicians often begin the physical examination with an assessment of whether a patient looks older than his or her actual age. This practice suggests an implicit assumption that patients who appear older than their actual age are more likely to be in poor health.
To determine the sensitivity and specificity of apparent age for the detection of poor health status.
A total of 126 outpatients (ages 30–70) from four primary care clinics and one general internal medicine clinic at an academic medical institution.
With the patient’s actual age provided, physicians (n = 58 internal medicine residents and general internal medicine faculty) viewed patient photographs and assessed how old each patient looked. For each physician, we examined the sensitivity and specificity of the difference between how old the patient looked and the patient’s actual age for the detection of poor health, defined using SF-12 physical health and mental health scores.
Using the threshold of looking ≥5 years older than actual age and with poor health defined as an SF-12 score ≥2.0 SD below age group norms, median sensitivity was 29% (IQR, 19% to 35%), median specificity 82% (IQR, 77% to 88%), median positive likelihood ratio 1.7 (IQR, 1.3 to 2.2), and median negative likelihood ratio 0.9 (IQR, 0.8 to 0.9). Using the threshold of looking ≥10 years older than actual age, median sensitivity was 5% (IQR, 2% to 9%) and median specificity was 99% (IQR, 96% to 100%).
The diagnostic value of apparent age depends on how many years older than his or her actual age a patient looks. A physician’s assessment that a patient looks ≥10 years older than his or her actual age has very high specificity for the detection of poor health.
PMCID: PMC3019310  PMID: 20981577
sensitivity and specificity; physical examination; diagnosis; health status; age factors
20.  The At Home/Chez Soi trial protocol: a pragmatic, multi-site, randomised controlled trial of a Housing First intervention for homeless individuals with mental illness in five Canadian cities 
BMJ Open  2011;1(2):e000323.
Housing First is a complex housing and support intervention for homeless individuals with mental health problems. It has a sufficient knowledge base and interest to warrant a test of wide-scale implementation in various settings. This protocol describes the quantitative design of a Canadian five city, $110 million demonstration project and provides the rationale for key scientific decisions.
A pragmatic, mixed methods, multi-site field trial of the effectiveness of Housing First in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal and Moncton, is randomising approximately 2500 participants, stratified by high and moderate need levels, into intervention and treatment as usual groups. Quantitative outcome measures are being collected over a 2-year period and a qualitative process evaluation is being completed. Primary outcomes are housing stability, social functioning and, for the economic analyses, quality of life. Hierarchical linear modelling is the primary data analytic strategy.
Ethics and dissemination
Research ethics board approval has been obtained from 11 institutions and a safety and adverse events committee is in place. The results of the multi-site analyses of outcomes at 12 months and 2 years will be reported in a series of core scientific journal papers. Extensive knowledge exchange activities with non-academic audiences will occur throughout the duration of the project.
Trial registration number
This study has been registered with the International Standard Randomised Control Trial Number Register and assigned ISRCTN42520374.
Article summary
Article focus
An evaluation of the cost-effectiveness of Housing First in comparison to treatment as usual for homeless adults with mental illness in five Canadian cities with a 2-year follow-up.
Primary outcomes include housing stability, quality of life and social functioning.
The correlates of different trajectories and the critical ingredients of the intervention for sub-populations will also be investigated.
Key messages
The first and largest multi-site trial of this complex housing and support intervention will provide information about implementation and outcomes.
The addition of site specific intervention arms to a core common protocol will allow investigation of innovative adaptations that are tailored to local context.
The inclusion of a broader homeless population receiving a less intensive service model will increase the policy relevance of findings.
Strengths and limitations of this study
A larger sample size (n=2500) and a wider range of outcome variables than in previous trials are strengths of this study.
This study utilises a concomitant mixed methods process evaluation that includes fidelity assessments.
Variation in sample characteristics and in treatment as usual across five cities may limit opportunities for aggregate analyses.
PMCID: PMC3221290  PMID: 22102645
21.  Effectiveness of interventions to improve the health and housing status of homeless people: a rapid systematic review 
BMC Public Health  2011;11:638.
Research on interventions to positively impact health and housing status of people who are homeless has received substantially increased attention over the past 5 years. This rapid review examines recent evidence regarding interventions that have been shown to improve the health of homeless people, with particular focus on the effect of these interventions on housing status.
A total of 1,546 articles were identified by a structured search of five electronic databases, a hand search of grey literature and relevant journals, and contact with experts. Two reviewers independently screened the first 10% of titles and abstracts for relevance. Inter-rater reliability was high and as a result only one reviewer screened the remaining titles and abstracts. Articles were included if they were published between January 2004 and December 2009 and examined the effectiveness of an intervention to improve the health or healthcare utilization of people who were homeless, marginally housed, or at risk of homelessness. Two reviewers independently scored all relevant articles for quality.
Eighty-four relevant studies were identified; none were of strong quality while ten were rated of moderate quality. For homeless people with mental illness, provision of housing upon hospital discharge was effective in improving sustained housing. For homeless people with substance abuse issues or concurrent disorders, provision of housing was associated with decreased substance use, relapses from periods of substance abstinence, and health services utilization, and increased housing tenure. Abstinent dependent housing was more effective in supporting housing status, substance abstinence, and improved psychiatric outcomes than non-abstinence dependent housing or no housing. Provision of housing also improved health outcomes among homeless populations with HIV. Health promotion programs can decrease risk behaviours among homeless populations.
These studies provide important new evidence regarding interventions to improve health, housing status, and access to healthcare for homeless populations. The additional studies included in this current review provide further support for earlier evidence which found that coordinated treatment programs for homeless persons with concurrent mental illness and substance misuse issues usually result in better health and access to healthcare than usual care. This review also provides a synthesis of existing evidence regarding interventions that specifically support homeless populations with HIV.
PMCID: PMC3171371  PMID: 21831318
22.  Chronic pain among homeless persons: characteristics, treatment, and barriers to management 
BMC Family Practice  2011;12:73.
Little information is available on the problem of chronic pain among homeless individuals. This study aimed to describe the characteristics of and treatments for chronic pain, barriers to pain management, concurrent medical conditions, and substance use among a representative sample of homeless single adult shelter users who experience chronic pain in Toronto, Canada.
Participants were randomly selected at shelters for single homeless adults between September 2007 and February 2008 and screened for chronic pain, defined as having pain in the body for ≥ 3 months or receiving treatment for pain that started ≥ 3 months ago. Cross-sectional surveys obtained information on demographic characteristics, characteristics of and treatments for chronic pain, barriers to pain management, concurrent medical conditions, and substance use. Whenever possible, participants' physicians were also interviewed.
Among 152 homeless participants who experienced chronic pain, 11 (8%) were classified as Chronic Pain Grade I (low disability-low intensity), 47 (32%) as Grade II (low disability-high intensity), 34 (23%) as Grade III (high disability-moderately limiting), and 54 (37%) as Grade IV (high disability-severely limiting). The most common self-reported barriers to pain management were stress of shelter life, inability to afford prescription medications, and poor sleeping conditions. Participants reported using over-the-counter medications (48%), street drugs (46%), prescribed medications (43%), and alcohol (29%) to treat their pain. Of the 61 interviewed physicians, only 51% reported treating the patient's pain. The most common physician-reported difficulties with pain management were reluctance to prescribe narcotics due to the patient's history of substance abuse, psychiatric comorbidities, frequently missed appointments, and difficulty getting the patient to take medications correctly.
Clinicians who provide healthcare for homeless people should screen for chronic pain and discuss barriers to effective pain management with their patients.
PMCID: PMC3141516  PMID: 21740567
23.  Predictors of low cervical cancer screening among immigrant women in Ontario, Canada 
BMC Women's Health  2011;11:20.
Disparities in cervical cancer screening are known to exist in Ontario, Canada for foreign-born women. The relative importance of various barriers to screening may vary across ethnic groups. This study aimed to determine how predictors of low cervical cancer screening, reflective of sociodemographics, the health care system, and migration, varied by region of origin for Ontario's immigrant women.
Using a validated billing code algorithm, we determined the proportion of women who were not screened during the three-year period of 2006-2008 among 455 864 identified immigrant women living in Ontario's urban centres. We created eight identical multivariate Poisson models, stratified by eight regions of origin for immigrant women. In these models, we adjusted for various sociodemographic, health care-related and migration-related variables. We then used the resulting adjusted relative risks to calculate population-attributable fractions for each variable by region of origin.
Region of origin was not a significant source of effect modification for lack of recent cervical cancer screening. Certain variables were significantly associated with lack of screening across all or nearly all world regions. These consisted of not being in the 35-49 year age group, residence in the lowest-income neighbourhoods, not being in a primary care patient enrolment model, a provider from the same region, and not having a female provider. For all women, the highest population-attributable risk was seen for not having a female provider, with values ranging from 16.8% [95% CI 14.6-19.1%] among women from the Middle East and North Africa to 27.4% [95% CI 26.2-28.6%] for women from East Asia and the Pacific.
To increase screening rates across immigrant groups, efforts should be made to ensure that women have access to a regular source of primary care, and ideally access to a female health professional. Efforts should also be made to increase the enrolment of immigrant women in new primary care patient enrolment models.
PMCID: PMC3121675  PMID: 21619609
24.  Active Tuberculosis among Homeless Persons, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 1998–2007 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2011;17(3):357-365.
While tuberculosis (TB) in Canadian cities is increasingly affecting foreign-born persons, homeless persons remain at high risk. To assess trends in TB, we studied all homeless persons in Toronto who had a diagnosis of active TB during 1998–2007. We compared Canada-born and foreign-born homeless persons and assessed changes over time. We identified 91 homeless persons with active TB; they typically had highly contagious, advanced disease, and 19% died within 12 months of diagnosis. The proportion of homeless persons who were foreign-born increased from 24% in 1998–2002 to 39% in 2003–2007. Among foreign-born homeless persons with TB, 56% of infections were caused by strains not known to circulate among homeless persons in Toronto. Only 2% of infections were resistant to first-line TB medications. The rise in foreign-born homeless persons with TB strains likely acquired overseas suggests that the risk for drug-resistant strains entering the homeless shelter system may be escalating.
PMCID: PMC3166000  PMID: 21392424
Tuberculosis; homeless persons; epidemiology; molecular epidemiology; clinical medicine; tuberculosis and other mycobacteria; research
25.  The health of homeless immigrants 
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.
PMCID: PMC2773541  PMID: 19654122
homelessness; migration and health

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