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The Patient Experience of the Very Elderly

by Clive Riddle, October 2, 2015

Press Ganey has just published a seven page white paper Patient Experience in the Very Elderly: An Emerging Strategic Focus, that in their words, “examines the clinical and strategic benefits for health care organizations creating targeted care strategies for the ‘Very Elderly’ population” which they  define as patients 80 years of age and older.

Thomas H. Lee, MD, Press Ganey’s Chief Medical Officer and a co-author of the paper tells us “most patients in this Very Elderly population claim a ‘poor’ or ‘fair’ health status and tend to have greater and more complex needs. The data suggest their needs are not being met reliably. Organizations that embrace a more focused, compassionate, connected care model have the potential to reduce suffering for this very vulnerable population and mitigate the impact of age and health status on patient experience ratings.”

Press Ganey points out that while only 3.5% of the U.S. population is over 80 years of age - this demographic is a dominant presence in hospitals, emergency departments and outpatient practices, representing “27% of medical service and 12% of surgical service admissions, and their lengths of stays are longer.” Press Ganey’s analysis examined HCAHPS data by service line and age group for 1.5 million patients.

Press Ganey uses HCAHPS patient service ratings as an argument that the medical needs of the Very Elderly are not being adequately met. They note that “the percentage of patients giving top ratings [to providers] steadily increases as patients get older—but then declines for patients above 80 years old. When data “change directions,” the reason is usually two different forces are at work. The most likely explanation for the data in Figure 1 is that the elderly patients have greater needs, and that, in the Very Elderly, failure to meet these needs overcomes the tendency of older patients to give higher ratings to their providers.”

Service ratings of providers that were a 9 or 10 (out of ten) increased by each age group (medical services from 58.6% for age 18-34to 71,2% for ages 65-79; and surgical services from 65.2% for ages 18-34 to 78.2% for ages 65-79; which fell to 69.2% for age 80+ medical services and 75.9% for age 80+ surgical services.)

Press Ganey also points out that “patients in poorer health give lower ratings to their hospitals than do those in better health, regardless of age,” and the HCAHPS data clearly shows a deterioration in reported health status by age. 83% of patients reporting excellent health rating medical service providers 9+ out of ten, compared to 61% reporting poor health. 86% of patients reporting excellent health rating surgical service providers 9+ out of ten, compared to 65% reporting poor health. Press Ganey provides graphs demonstrating that “older patients are more likely to describe their health as fair or poor, and few Very Elderly patients report being in very good or excellent health.”

Press Ganey emphasizes to providers that “taken together, these data demonstrate both an opportunity and a threat. The threat is the risk of losing the patient segments that account for a large proportion of the care delivered by most organizations—the sick elderly. Furthermore, hospital payments might be compromised by lower patient experience scores that result from having more sick Very Elderly patients.” Press Ganey concludes that “this group wants more thorough, communicative care that meets their needs for information, coordination, responsiveness and general hygiene;” and that “providers have the potential to reduce suffering for this very vulnerable population, improve patient experience and market share through focused efforts and team-based care.”

Royal Philips has also just published new study results relating to the elderly’s healthcare experience, with their analysis “demonstrating an insightful correlation between chronic conditions and falls risk. Their researchers” retrospectively analyzed the records of 145,000 seniors equipped with a standard Philips Lifeline medical alert service or a medical alert service with AutoAlert (automatic fall detection) between January 2012 and June 2014.”

Their findings, and national data they highlight in their report include:

  • Seniors with chronic conditions fell and required emergency transport up to 54 percent more often, compared to their peers with no chronic conditions. (they note that one in three seniors fall each year and that 80 percent of the senior population has at least one chronic condition and 68 percent has two or more.)
  • Seniors with physical conditions not typically tied to frailty, including COPD and diabetes, also were shown to fall more often.
  • Among Philips users, seniors who self-reported suffering from three chronic conditions had 15 percent more falls that required hospital transport, and those with five or more conditions had 40 percent more falls than those with no chronic conditions.
  • Within the study population, 72 percent reported having one or more chronic conditions, with 20 percent reporting five or more.
  • The data shows that seniors fell more often and needed hospital transport when reporting the following: Cognitive impairment by 54 percent; COPD by 42 percent; Diabetes by 30 percent; and Heart condition by 29 percent.

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