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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Prevalence of Emergency Department Social Risk and Social Needs


Introduction: Social risks, or adverse social conditions associated with poor health, are prevalent in emergency department (ED) patients, but little is known about how the prevalence of social risk compares to a patient’s reported social need, which incorporates patient preference for intervention. The goal of this study was to describe the relationship between social risk and social need, and identify factors associated with differential responses to social risk and social need questions.

Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional study with 48 hours of time-shift sampling in a large urban ED. Consenting patients completed a demographic questionnaire and assessments of social risk and social need. We applied descriptive statistics to the prevalence of social risk and social need, and multivariable logistic regression to assess factors associated with social risk, social need, or both.

Results: Of the 269 participants, 100 (37%) reported social risk, 83 (31%) reported social need, and 169 (63%) reported neither social risk nor social need. Although social risk and social need were significantly associated (p < 0.01), they incompletely overlapped. Over 50% in each category screened positive in more than one domain (eg, housing instability, food insecurity). In multivariable models, those with higher education (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] 0.44 [95% confidence interval {CI}, 0.24-0.80]) and private insurance (aOR 0.50 [95% CI, 0.29-0.88]) were less likely to report social risk compared to those with lower education and state/public insurance, respectively. Spanish-speakers (aOR 4.07 [95% CI, 1.17-14.10]) and non-Hispanic Black patients (aOR 5.00 [95% CI, 1.91-13.12]) were more likely to report social need, while those with private insurance were less likely to report social need (private vs state/public: aOR 0.13 [95% CI, 0.07-0.26]).

Conclusion: Approximately one-third of patients in a large, urban ED screened positive for at least one social risk or social need, with over half in each category reporting risk/need across multiple domains. Different demographic variables were associated with social risk vs social need, suggesting that individuals with social risks differ from those with social needs, and that screening programs should consider including both assessments.


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