Contact with healthcare system among aging population varies by region

As the U.S. population ages, some Medicare patients spend the equivalent of a month each year in contact with healthcare providers, according to a new report from the Dartmouth Institute.

Researchers with the Dartmouth Atlas Project analyzed data for 306 hospital referral regions nationwide and found broad regional variations in time spent in contact with the healthcare system. East Long Island and Manhattan, New York, tied for the longest, with Medicare beneficiaries spending just under 25 days a year in contact with providers. The lowest averages were found in Marquette, Michigan, and Lebanon, New Hampshire, where Medicare beneficiaries spent an average of just over 10 days.

Patients with multiple chronic conditions spent even more time in contact with providers. East Long Island and Manhattan again led the nation, with an average of 46.2 days. East Long Island also led in contact days among patients with dementia at just under 45 days.

The report projects that by 2050 the aging population will have nearly doubled in size compared to 2012. Hospitals can prepare for this increase with strategies such as accounting for patients without support networks and empowering family caregivers, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

The report says the healthcare system must improve in five key areas:

  • Reducing prostate cancer screening for men 75 and older
  • Reducing feeding tube placement in dementia patients
  • Reducing lengths of intensive care stays in the last six months of life
  • Reducing breast cancer screening for patients 75 and older
  • Reducing late end-of-life hospice referrals

The report tracked some improvements as well; Medicare beneficiaries filling at least one high-risk medication prescription fell nearly 43 percent between 2006 and 2012. Rates of high-risk medication use vary nationwide from as much as 29.1 percent in Monroe, Louisiana, to as little as 9.8 percent in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

"Our bodies change as we age, and our priorities change, too, as the number of years ahead are fewer than the years behind us," Bynum said in an announcement. "The information in this report is a good starting point for patients and their caregivers to begin a conversation with their doctor about certain aspects of their care."

To learn more:
- read the report (.pdf)
- here's the research announcement