Researchers examined health care service use among a group of newly homeless adolescents who had become homeless two years prior to see if differences existed among those who had returned home and those who remained homeless. By the end of that period, 63 percent had returned home, with the rest remaining homeless.
The researchers found that most youths in the study sought out health care for sexually transmitted diseases or for reproductive health, regardless of whether they had returned home. Additionally, males who remained homeless were more likely to seek emergency room treatment for traumatic injuries than were those who had returned home. Youths who remained homeless were also more likely to seek emergency room treatment for common conditions such as respiratory illnesses and gastrointestinal problems that could have been treated in an outpatient setting. The most common predictor of outpatient service use was whether the youth had health insurance, which those aged 18 and older were likelier to have compared with their younger peers.
IMPACT: Youth with a history of homelessness are a vulnerable population at high risk for negative health outcomes. The findings suggest that facilitating health insurance coverage for them may lead to increased use of outpatient care services, which may prevent costly emergency room services for conditions that could have been treated in the outpatient setting. There is a need for interventions geared toward this group in facilitating health insurance coverage. For instance, homeless shelter operators can help them apply for MediCal.