Many Americans want to spend their elder years at home, with data from AARP showing that 77% of adults 50+ want to remain in their homes for the long term. However, fewer than half of seniors actually do age at home because of factors including safety risks and transportation challenges.
The pandemic further shifted the burden of healthcare maintenance toward secondary and tertiary care, with a need to rebalance as an industry. This is especially true when it comes to seniors who face multiple chronic conditions and added frailty as they age, accumulating to more morbidities. The spectrum of what can be done to proactively address seniors’ health starts with access to primary care.
Aging in place requires a full range of flexible, interconnected supports that help seniors build resilience, improve quality of life and reduce medical expenses while effectively equipping caregivers to enhance support. Prioritizing quality, well-coordinated, in-home care with a focus on effectively utilizing primary care to support wellness is crucial for seniors, caregivers, and payers.
Educating seniors about the significance of primary care’s role in holistically managing prevailing health conditions and recognizing and preventing progression of disease is essential. By keeping seniors engaged with a primary care provider, payers and caregivers can ensure they’re supporting them in a healthy, cost-effective manner and helping them stay well and functioning at their highest level while aging at home.
Benefits of strong primary care connections
For seniors, having an ongoing primary care provider offers consistency, continuity and convenience with a central point of care. By developing a relationship with a primary care provider, elders can cultivate familiarity and trust, both for individual at-home care and within the wider healthcare system. This helps with deploying holistic, personalized engagement strategies to help meet the individual where they are to foster engagement and improve chances of early disease detection.
A steady primary care provider also offers convenience for seniors with greater ease for booking appointments and creating efficiencies with quality care, versus seeing a doctor with whom they are less familiar and is not acquainted with the person’s medical history. For instance, elders are on a minimum of four to five medications, which can be a top contributor to fall risk. Primary care providers can understand whether all those medications are needed, if an elder’s condition predisposes them to falling, and what preventative measures can be taken to prevent risk.
Beyond routine health checks for seniors, primary care centers on wellness and building preventative at-home health plans. For example, when an elder is diagnosed with dementia, referring them to an occupational therapist to help with disease progression while proactively alerting caregivers and community members to associated care needs can have a positive impact on health outcomes. Working with primary care providers to effectively coordinate different points of care will help seniors build the resilience to age safely at home.
Strategies to encourage seniors’ engagement with primary care
Today there are more advances in ways to help elders prioritize their health. Chiefly, health plans have simplified preventive health measures by including annual wellness visits in their benefits. Clinical studies indicate that annual wellness visits help detect the development of early symptoms around potential health conditions, enabling elders and their caregivers to be more proactive through thorough health risk assessments with providers.
Increasingly, technology enables greater access to healthcare. Technology also offers a level of connectedness that elders have not historically had that now helps facilitate virtual care and attention, particularly regarding issues of social isolation and loneliness, which can negatively affect the health of seniors aging at home. Technology can help reduce some of those impacts and mitigate health challenges related to immunization, mobility, and more. Incorporating an elder’s caregiving network to coordinate technology use can improve interest and adoption of technology.
Providing highly accessible virtual primary care options enhances engagement for seniors aging at home. Demand for virtual primary care interactions via telehealth significantly increased during the pandemic and remains a preferred option for many providers, as well as elders, due to convenience, choice, and ease of access. Telehealth visits can help ensure that elders don’t lose the continuity of at-home care coordination that primary care offers.
As another extension of virtual care and engagement, remote monitoring enables elders to stay in touch with primary care relative to certain medical information. Further, having strong patient portals provides another channel for direct connections to primary care, enabling easy appointment scheduling, monitoring of lab values, access to educational materials from the provider, and other vital services to support home care.
Taking a multipronged approach to driving elder engagement with primary care providers offers seniors greater options to establish and maintain these crucial primary care relationships and improve health outcomes.
Engaging elders with quality, cost-efficient primary care providers and providing them and their caretakers with the right knowledge and resources is essential to help them get on the path of resilience for aging at home. Utilizing these strategies alongside the latest technology can help keep seniors actively engaged with primary care through a focus on wellness, ultimately helping to better serve their needs for safe home healthcare services.
Krithika Srivats is senior vice president of clinical practice and products at Sagility, a healthcare business process management firm. Krithika has over 25 years of diverse experience in patient care, strategic disease management in the field of Alzheimer’s and related dementias and, as an occupational therapist, has a passion for helping elders live safely at home.