Background. Research suggests that inpatient geriatric evaluation and management units (GEMs), which undertake interdisciplinary diagnosis to improve the health of frail elderly patients, are effective. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) helped pioneer U.S. GEMs and mandates that every facility shall have a GEM by 1996. We conducted a population survey of VA GEMs in 1991 to assess their dissemination. Methods. Various organizational and performance characteristics of GEMs were entered in a data base derived from a piloted questionnaire and administrative records. Basic criteria from consensus reports were used to classify and compare 'standard' and 'nonstandard' GEMs. The criteria covered performance of assessment, team structure, patient selection, GEM location, and treatment functions. We analyzed the effect of GEM type and other factors on length of stay and placement. Reasons for closure of GEMs inactive in 1991 were recovered, and GEMs active in 1991 but later closed are described. Results. As of 1991, 41 of 73 GEMs were classified as standard, and 32 nonstandard. Standard compared to nonstandard GEMs had shorter stays (25.4 vs 69.9 days; p < .001), higher home discharge rates (63.4% vs 40%; p < .001), and lower nursing home placement rates (19.1% vs 40.3%; p < .001). Eleven hospitals had closed their programs by 1991. By 1993, 6 additional GEMs had closed; all were nonstandard in 1991. Conclusions. Most VA GEMs are organized according to basic consensus standards, and appear to be discharging most patients back to the community after reasonably short stays. However, various resource constraints are common, apparently reflected in nonstandard organization and GEM closure. Additional work is needed to monitor GEM proliferation, implementation, and performance in and out of the VA system.
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