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BACKGROUND: Guidelines recommend routine frailty screening for all hospitalised older adults to inform care decisions, based mainly on studies in elective or speciality-specific settings. However, most hospital bed days are accounted for by acute non-elective admissions, in which the prevalence and prognostic value of frailty might differ, and uptake of screening is limited. We therefore did a systematic review and meta-analysis of frailty prevalence and outcomes in unplanned hospital admissions. METHODS: We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE and CINAHL up to 31/01/2023 and included observational studies using validated frailty measures in adult hospital-wide or general medicine admissions. Summary data on the prevalence of frailty and associated outcomes, measurement tools, study setting (hospital-wide vs general medicine), and design (prospective vs retrospective) were extracted and risk of bias assessed (modified Joanna Briggs Institute checklists). Unadjusted relative risks (RR; moderate/severe frailty vs no/mild) for mortality (within one year), length of stay (LOS), discharge destination and readmission were calculated and pooled, where appropriate, using random-effects models. PROSPERO CRD42021235663. FINDINGS: Among 45 cohorts (median/SD age = 80/5 years; n = 39,041,266 admissions, n = 22 measurement tools) moderate/severe frailty ranged from 14.3% to 79.6% overall (and in the 26 cohorts with low-moderate risk of bias) with considerable heterogeneity between studies (phet < 0.001) preventing pooling of results but with rates <25% in only 3 cohorts. Moderate/severe vs no/mild frailty was associated with increased mortality (n = 19 cohorts; RR range = 1.08-3.70), more consistently among cohorts using clinically administered tools (n = 11; RR range = 1.63-3.70; phet = 0.08; pooled RR = 2.53, 95% CI = 2.15-2.97) vs cohorts using (retrospective) administrative coding data (n = 8; RR range = 1.08-3.02; phet < 0.001). Clinically administered tools also predicted increasing mortality across the full range of frailty severity in each of the six cohorts that allowed ordinal analysis (all p 8 days (RR range = 2.14-3.04; n = 6) and discharge to a location other than home (RR range = 1.97-2.82; n = 4) but was inconsistently related to 30-day readmission (RR range = 0.83-1.94; n = 12). Associations remained clinically significant after adjustment for age, sex and comorbidity where reported. INTERPRETATION: Frailty is common in older patients with acute, non-elective hospital admission and remains predictive of mortality, LOS and discharge home with more severe frailty associated with greater risk, justifying more widespread implementation of screening using clinically administered tools. FUNDING: None.

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Discharge home, Frailty, General (internal) medicine, Hospitals, Length of stay, Mortality, Older adults, Readmission