The Effect of Homelessness on Patient Wait Times in the Emergency Department

Alexander Ayala*, Kyle Tegtmeyer, Giancarlo Atassi, Elizabeth Powell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: Prolonged emergency department (ED) wait times could potentially lead to increased morbidity and mortality. While previous work has demonstrated disparities in wait times associated with race, information about the relationship between experiencing homelessness and ED wait times is lacking. Objectives: The purpose of this study was to explore the relationship between residence status (undomiciled vs. domiciled) and ED wait times. We hypothesized that being undomiciled would be associated with longer wait times. Methods: We obtained data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey from 2014 to 2017. We compared wait times in each triage category using t tests. We used multivariate linear regression to explore associations between residence status and wait times while controlling for other patient- and hospital-level variables. Results: On average, undomiciled patients experienced significantly longer mean ED wait times than domiciled patients (53.4 vs. 38.9 min; p < 0.0001). In the multivariate model, undomiciled patients experienced significantly different wait times by 15.5 min (p = 0.0002). Undomiciled patients experienced increasingly longer waits vs. domiciled patients for the emergent and urgent triage categories (+33.5 min, p < 0.0001, and +22.7 min, p < 0.0001, respectively). Conclusions: Undomiciled patients experience longer ED wait times when compared with domiciled patients. This disparity is not explained by undomiciled patients seeking care in the ED for minor illness, because the disparity is more pronounced for urgent and emergent triage categories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)661-668
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2021


  • disparity
  • emergency department
  • homeless population
  • public health
  • wait times

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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