Validating administratively derived frailty scores for use in Veterans Health Administration emergency departments.



Frailty is a clinical syndrome characterized by decreased physiologic reserve that diminishes the ability to respond to stressors such as acute illness. Veterans Health Administration (VA) emergency departments (ED) are the primary venue of care for Veterans with acute illness and represent key sites for frailty recognition. As questionnaire-based frailty instruments can be cumbersome to implement in the ED, we examined two administratively derived frailty scores for use among VA ED patients.


This national retrospective cohort study included all VA ED visits (2017-2020). We evaluated two administratively derived scores: the Care Assessment Needs (CAN) score and the VA Frailty Index (VA-FI). We categorized all ED visits across four frailty groups and examined associations with outcomes of 30-day and 90-day hospitalization and 30-day, 90-day, and 1-year mortality. We used logistic regression to assess the model performance of the CAN score and the VA-FI.


The cohort included 9,213,571 ED visits. With the CAN score, 28.7% of the cohort were classified as severely frail; by VA-FI, 13.2% were severely frail. All outcome rates increased with progressive frailty (p-values for all comparisons < 0.001). For example, for 1-year mortality based on the CAN score frailty was determined as: robust, 1.4%; prefrail, 3.4%; moderately frail, 7.0%; and severely frail, 20.2%. Similarly, for 90-day hospitalization based on VA-FI, frailty was determined as prefrail, 8.3%; mildly frail, 15.3%; moderately frail, 29.5%; and severely frail, 55.4%. The c-statistics for CAN score models were higher than for VA-FI models across all outcomes (e.g., 1-year mortality, 0.721 vs. 0.659).


Frailty was common among VA ED patients. Increased frailty, whether measured by CAN score or VA-FI, was strongly associated with hospitalization and mortality and both can be used in the ED to identify Veterans at high risk for adverse outcomes. Having an effective automatic score in VA EDs to identify frail Veterans may allow for better targeting of scarce resources.





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Publication Info

Dev, Sharmistha, Andrew A Gonzalez, Jessica Coffing, James E Slaven, Shantanu Dev, Stan Taylor, Carrie Ballard, S Nicole Hastings, et al. (2023). Validating administratively derived frailty scores for use in Veterans Health Administration emergency departments. Academic emergency medicine : official journal of the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine, 30(4). pp. 349–358. 10.1111/acem.14705 Retrieved from

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