How an interprofessional geriatrics workforce can treat complex, elderly patients

One California hospital is preparing for the "silver tsunami"--the large number of aging patients who will soon seek healthcare services and resources--by training an interdisciplinary workforce on how to care for the elderly.

Keck Medicine, which serves as the University of Southern California's medical enterprise, plans to use a $2.5 million federal grant to build an interdisciplinary primary care team that includes pharmacists, dentists, occupational therapists and social workers over the next three years, Hospitals & Health Networks Daily reports. The grant will also fund the team's plans to develop a comprehensive primary care-based assessment for the elderly and educate the next generation of medical students so they are better able to care for the aging population.

"There's this huge sort of bolus of older people emerging--we refer to this in the field of geriatrics as the 'silver tsunami'--and we're ill-equipped to care for them," Bonnie Olsen, Ph.D., a clinical professor of family medicine at USC and leader of the team, told HH&N. "This grant is, in large measure, an effort to build up a sufficient workforce, and we will just barely scratch the surface. But at least it's an effort to increase the number of skilled workers in a variety of professions who understand and can treat geriatric patients."

USC aims to open its first clinic at one of the ambulatory clinics in the Keck system this fall and another one on the campus of the Los Angeles County Medical Center. Training students to work in these new clinical settings will begin in July 2016, according to the article.

The healthcare sector desperately needs the influx of new workers. Experts predict the population of Americans aged 65 or older will reach 89 million by 2050, FierceHealthcare previously reported. Because older adults make up a quarter of all emergency room visits, many hospitals have opened emergency departments dedicated to caring for the elderly. The ECRI Institute estimates there are about 50 geriatric EDs currently operating and another 150 in development.

The specialized ERs feature lights that are kinder to the eyes, easy-to-read clocks, quick drying and non-slip floors, and toilets by the patient bedsides to prevent falls. Clinicians are also trained to assess fall risk, dementia, malnutrition and other disorders common in elderly patients, including abuse and neglect. However, a recent study noted that emergency clinicians often fail to conduct direct observation before discharge, putting elderly patients at greater risks for falls, complications and readmissions.

To learn more:
- read the HH&N article