Putting Older Patients First

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Image from Pixabay

Recently, Dr. Leonore Buckley published a commentary in JAMA on witnessing her brother’s hospitalization and subsequent decline. As a physician and caregiver, she provided a unique perspective on the disjointed, often alienating process of being a hospitalized patient in contemporary medicine.

Most physicians or nurses who have recently worked on an inpatient unit have witnessed this phenomenon. Dr. Buckley outlines some of the challenges in the care of her brother, Tom:

  1. Unclear responsibility. It was unclear to Dr. Buckley who was ultimately responsible for Tom’s care – a single point person whom she could approach with questions. She states: “the medical teams came and went with rotating attendings we never really got to know.”
  2. Iatrogenesis. Tom developed a secondary infection after receiving antibiotics, anasarca after receiving intravenous fluids, and delirium after being in an unfamiliar environment for several days. Older patients are particularly prone to such adverse consequences of hospitalization; for example by one estimate, up to one in three experience delirium.
  3. Immobility. Physical therapy was available only sporadically, and Tom deteriorated in part due to lack of movement. This is all too common in hospitals, with therapists often unavailable on weekends, and stretched thin during the weekday.
  4. Lack of patient-centeredness. Dr. Buckley reports that she felt like she “was standing in front of an express train of technology” that couldn’t be stopped. As one example – Tom went to dialysis in a windowless room from 4-8 PM most evenings, therefore missing dinner. Exhausted afterwards, he refused to eat. Other details as well – the continuous alarms that disrupt sleep, the lack of privacy – are all too familiar.

Dr. Buckley does credit the physicians and nurses with being well-trained and providing well-intentioned care. And in my opinion, individual clinicians don’t deserve blame for this – the problem is one of a healthcare system built for maximum efficiency that, somewhere through the process of adapting quality metrics, discharges before noon, and the latest in advanced monitoring technology, lost sight of what matters most – an individual person, sick and often bewildered, who needs other human beings to help them recover.

This is a complex problem without a single solution, but there is progress on many fronts. For example, the John A. Hartford Foundation has identified  “age-friendly health systems” as a priority area and is working with organizations to achieve several aims, including aligning care with older patients’ specific health goals, implementing delirium prevention strategies, and ensuring mobilization on a daily basis. Medical centers such as Johns Hopkins are piloting rehabilitation programs in critically ill patients, mobilizing them early in their disease course to avoid functional decline.

Such efforts are laudable. And, as the number of Americans age ≥85 is expected to triple over the next three decades, they are essential to a future healthcare system that puts patients first.

 

By: John Dodson, MD, MPH

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CoMPAdRE: A Connecting Point for Aging Researchers

Ruth Masterson CreberWhat is the CoMPAdRE program?
The CoMPAdRE program is an interprofessional, early career mentorship program for faculty who are interested in patient-centered aging research. The acronym CoMPAdRE stands for Columbia University Mentor Peer Aging Research. Compadre also means “friend or companion,” representing the purpose of this program—to build a network of peer relationships that can be sustained over the course of a career.

Many traditional mentoring programs are structured as dyadic relationships between a senior mentor and junior mentee. However, this traditional dyadic model can put undue pressure on both the mentor and mentee.  Moreover, mentees may have trouble identifying senior mentors who are available and willing to invest the time needed to develop a productive dyadic relationship. This issue is particularly problematic for women and racial and ethnic minorities who traditionally have had less access to professional networks (additional information here) with potential senior mentors. There is a large body of research demonstrating the benefits of mentorship, such as access to career development opportunities; therefore, individuals who are excluded from mentorship opportunities are often disadvantaged with regard to career development. CoMPAdRE seeks to address shortcomings of traditional mentoring programs by offering a new model: a hybrid of a dyadic and peer mentorship model, known as facilitated peer mentorship. The program is led by a senior mentor, Mathew Maurer MD, but the focus is on building a strong, interprofessional peer network.

Why is this program interprofessional?
Over the past decade, the care of older adults has become much more clinically complex and fragmented. As patients live longer with multiple comorbid conditions, they are receiving care from a number of specialized providers, creating greater possibilities for fragmentation in care. Collaborative mentorship teams facilitate sharing of ideas and learning opportunities across disciplines. For example, when caring for older adults with heart failure, programs such as the Heart Failure with Preserved Ejection Fraction Program at Weill Cornell Medicine include physicians, nurses, and social workers. Both holistic patient care and thought leadership require an interprofessional team that bring together specific domain expertise. By bringing together a diverse cohort of health professionals from across the country, CoMPAdRE has facilitated a unique learning experience for sharing ideas, developing skills, and building relationships.

How does CoMPAdRE impact patients?
The value of mentorship goes back to the underlying importance of reducing clinician burnout and supporting sustainability. When healthcare providers feel connected through a common mission, they have more capacity to fully engage with the needs of their patients, and conduct high-impact research focused on improving patient outcomes. Clinicians and researchers thrive most when they feel their work is valued.

What will you take away from this program?
Mentorship and giving back to the community takes place at every career stage. CoMPAdRE has hosted many global leaders in aging including Drs. Luigi Ferrucci, Linda Fried, Stephanie Studenski, Terry Fulmer, Mary Tinetti, and Mark Supiano, among others. Each speaker not only shared their career highlights, but the accompanying personal stories that paralleled the highs and lows of their careers. As a group, we learned how to manage time, stay focused, and most of all, value and cultivate relationships. A major theme of discussion throughout the program was that, over the course of clinical training, skills in management, leadership, and administration are not taught, and yet are expected as part of the job. One of the benefits of this program is that it provides the mentees with a structured opportunity to learn more about these skills with direct application into our clinical practices and programs of research.

Despite being a program for “early career” faculty, we were all encouraged to not only seek out mentorship and support, but to also serve as mentor to others. A critical takeaway point from this program was the necessity of mentoring at all career levels; it is never too early or too late to support others through mentorship.

How can we find out more about the program?
If you are interested in finding out more information about this CoMPAdRE program, you can read more details about this program in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

 

By: Ruth Masterson Creber, PhD, MSc, RN

Ruth Masterson Creber is an Assistant Professor of the Department of Healthcare Policy and Research at Weill Cornell Medicine.