Date: April 1st, 2002
Americans over the age of 65 represent over one-half of physician visits annually, yet only a small percent of healthcare professionals actually have specific training to appropriately care for this population. With the number of Americans over 65 expected to double within 30 years, our healthcare system is woefully unprepared to handle the inevitable surge of geriatric patients. This serious but overlooked problem is highlighted in Medical Never-Never Land: 10 Reasons Why America is Not Ready for the Coming Age Boom, a new report by the Alliance for Aging Research that was released at a Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing on this critical issue February 27, 2002. The report highlights the lack of formal training in geriatric care in many of the healthcare professions such as physicians, nurses, social workers and pharmacists.
With the Baby Boom generation quickly coming of age, health care professionals not only will be treating more older patients, they will see far greater incidence of the diseases that affect older people, such as dementia, cancer, bone and joint disease and vision impairment.
In a national public opinion survey commissioned by the Alliance, 96% of respondents stated that it is important for their health professionals to have some geriatric training when dealing with the elderly and are adamant that the system should be fixed.
Consider the following facts from the Medical Never-Never Land report:
- By 2030, the U.S. will need up to 36,000 geriatricians and will fall far short of that figure by as many as 25,000 unless effective steps are taken to train new providers.
- Of the 650,000 licensed physicians practicing in the U.S., fewer than 9,000 physicians are certified in geriatrics. With the number of physicians retiring or choosing not to be re-certified, this number is actually shrinking.
- Of nearly 200,000 pharmacists in the U.S., only 720 have geriatric certifications, in spite of the fact that the elderly are by far the largest users of pharmaceutical products.
- If more consistent and widely available geriatric care could result in a reduction of hospital, nursing home and home care costs by just 10 percent a year, the U.S. would have saved $50.4 billion in the year 2000.
- One out of every five older patients receives prescriptions of inappropriate drugs (JAMA, Dec. 12, 2001).
- Only 450 of the 98,000 academic fellowships funded by Medicare education funds are in geriatrics.
"Despite the best efforts of many professional healthcare organizations, the federal government has not made geriatrics training a priority among health programs," said Daniel Perry. "The new report does not insist that all health professionals be certified in geriatric care, but rather points to the need for all American health professionals to receive some formal exposure to geriatrics as part of their health education."
Why, you ask? The report focuses on 10 reasons why American's health professionals are not being adequately prepared for the coming Age Boom. Recognizing and addressing these barriers is the key to escaping from Medical Never-Never Land:
- Age Denial
- Older Patients Marginalized
- Lack of Public Awareness of the Geriatrics Gap
- Scarcity of Academic Leaders
- Lack of Academic Infrastructure in Geriatrics
- Geriatric Medicine Not Valued
- Inadequate Reimbursement
- Lack of Coordination within Medicine
- Clinical Trials Do Not Include the Aged
- Little Scientific Research on the Aging Process
Other organizations represented at the hearing included the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Association of Colleges of Nursing, American Geriatrics Society, American Association of Geriatric Psychiatry, American Occupational Therapy Association, American Physical Therapy Association, American Psychological Association, American Society of Consultant Pharmacists, Association of Professors of Medicine, Commission for Certification in Geriatric Pharmacy, Council of Social Work Education and The National Association of Social Workers.
What can you do? Talk to your healthcare provider about whether he/she has any training in geriatric care. Also, keep watch on the Alliance For Aging Research Advocacy website for ways you can advance legislative activities for geriatric training.