Homelessness is a growing concern across the world, particularly as individuals experiencing homelessness age and face an increasing burden of chronic health conditions. Although substantial research has focused on the medical and psychiatric care of patients experiencing homelessness, literature about the surgical care of these patients is sparse. Our objective was to review the literature to identify areas of concern unique to patients experiencing homelessness with surgical disease. A scoping review was conducted using a comprehensive database for studies from 1990 to September 1, 2020. Studies that included patients who were unhoused and discussed surgical care were included. The inclusion criteria were designed to identify evidence that directly affected surgical care, systems management, and policy making. Findings were organized within a Phases of Surgical Care framework: preoperative care, intraoperative care, postoperative care, and global use.
Our search strategy yielded 553 unique studies, of which 23 met inclusion criteria. Most studies were performed at public and/or safety-net hospitals or via administrative datasets, and surgical specialties that were represented included orthopedic, cardiac, plastic surgery trauma, and vascular surgery. Using the Surgical Phases of Care framework, we identified studies that described the impact of housing status in pre- and postoperative phases as well as global use. There was limited identification of barriers to surgical and anesthetic best practices in the intraoperative phase. More than half of studies (52.2%) lacked a clear definition of homelessness. Thus, there is a marked gap in the surgical literature regarding the impact of housing status on optimal surgical care, with the largest area for improvement in the intraoperative phase of surgical and anesthetic decision making. Consistent use of clear definitions of homelessness is lacking. To promote improved care, a standardized approach to recording housing status is needed, and studies must explore vulnerabilities in surgical care unique to this population.