University of Alabama at Birmingham

An emergency room designed for older patients

The emergency room was packed one night a couple of years ago when Marilyn Riffkin visited Holy Cross Hospital, in Silver Spring, Md., suffering from diverticulitis. She expected to wait for hours. But five minutes later, Riffkin was taken to an ER designed for non-trauma patients ages 65 and older.

Riffkin, 71, was the only patient. The nurse gave her a hot water bottle to ease the pain and hooked her up to an intravenous antibiotic. After Riffkin returned home, the ER called to see how she was doing. "They treated me like a gem," she says.

Older adults account for 15 percent of all ER visits, and that share is sure to grow as the population ages. A study at one...