Four in 10 older US adults can't manage their healthcare needs

A significant number of older adult patients in the U.S. are unable to cope with the complexities of navigating the modern healthcare system, according to a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine

But "person-centered" care models can help identify patients who need assistance and help them access the resources they need to obtain quality care, researchers said.

Study authors Jennifer L. Wolff, Ph.D., and Cynthia M. Boyd, M.D., of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, examined the results of the 2012 National Health and Aging Trends Study, a survey of 2,040 Medicare patients age 65 or older. The researchers found that no single approach to treating older patients is preferable, but that healthcare providers should strive toward a person-centered care approach, taking into consideration each patient's needs and resources.

Wolff and Boyd reported a high percentage of what they call "treatment burden" among patients ages 65 and older. Some 40 percent of individuals studied put off diagnosis and treatment for one or more health issue because they felt unable to meet the necessary requirements to receive adequate care.

A high percentage of older adults, the study found, want more control over their health decisions and the course their treatments take. This contradicts data from earlier studies which found that elder patients would prefer instructions about how to receive care.

"Medical providers must be aware that when they ask older adults to take a new medication or suggest they see another doctor that this is happening in a broader context of treatment," said Wolff in an announcement about the study. "High-quality care is not only about a single disease or visit, but rather the overall treatment plan across multiple providers. If we look at each visit in a vacuum, the health of these older adults could really suffer."

Healthcare, and individual patients, are both too complex for a one-size-fits-all approach to be effective, added Wolff, and it is essential that providers factor in the individual patient and his or her viewpoint and experiences. Institutions can use a simple, three-pronged plan to move toward a more person-centered care model: system-based analysis to find out where an institution's real strengths and weaknesses lie; analysis of individual physician performance; and a program of employee-patient engagement.

To learn more:
- read the study abstract
- read the Johns Hopkins announcement