We sat down with Bill Bryant, MD, vice president and chief quality and patient safety officer at Owensboro Health to learn more about the programs and services offered.
Medical News: Owensboro Health provides a number home and community-based programs, such as the Healthpark, Home Care Services and the Wound Care Center. While they likely serve any age, can you tell us how you modify them to cater to the aging populations?
Bill Bryant: Owensboro Health’s mission is to heal the sick and to improve the health of the communities we serve and the Healthpark is one of the most visible examples of our commitment to serving the aging population in our region. As a medical-based fitness center, the Healthpark offers not only fitness options, but also therapy services, education programs and engagement opportunities. We even have a group centered on providing enjoyable travel and social activities for seniors, which we call Golden Partners.
It is important to note that we offer these services specifically with safety in mind, which includes tailoring programs and services specifically for aging individuals. One example of this is a pilot program at the Healthpark for fall prevention, in which trained therapy staff members work with older individuals who have identified risk factors for falls. These individuals are taught techniques that can prevent falls and also work on skills and abilities which are needed to prevent falls and fall-related injuries. We have observed definite benefits to participants and we intend to expand this program beyond the pilot stage so that it can help more individuals.
The Healthpark is also the home of the health system’s Exercise is Medicine program. The program, which is prescribed by primary care providers, treats physical activity as a therapeutic option, which is important for preventing or remedying so many of the most common chronic health problems facing our aging population. Hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis, loss of muscle mass, difficulty with balance and more are all problems which can benefit from physical activity.
Elsewhere in the health system, we are working to create processes and systems that benefit all we serve, especially at-risk aging individuals. An example of this is our electronic medical records system, which allows real-time information sharing and helps providers make better-informed decisions for our patients. We also use clinical integration, including a population health team to offer guidance and information to patients, helping them remain well after a hospital stay, preventing readmissions and adverse outcomes.
MN: Why did you choose to provide these services – and do you expect to expand into other adjacent businesses (hospice, inpatient rehab, etc.)?
BB: In medicine, we find more and more that there are few areas of a person’s health which are not connected to others. The continuum of care is one area in which aging individuals can benefit or be harmed, depending on the skill with which their care is managed from place to place.
By offering these services ourselves, we can better coordinate our efforts to help these individuals. It eases communication and our overall management of their care. It also makes it much easier to implement continuous quality improvement methods for the benefit of patients when we see ways to do better.
While we have done a great deal of expansion and diversification of our scope of services, both in terms of our capabilities and our points of access, we don’t view that as the sole means by which we can impact the health of the aging population. Owensboro Health also is proud to partner with other agencies throughout the region which provide critical services, including those which benefit older populations. We do this both through monetary support, in the form of community benefit grants, and by encouraging our employees to support an annual combined giving campaign, in which employees can devote a one-time donation or regular deduction from their paycheck to many worthy charities of their choice, some of which are agencies that directly benefit aging populations, including the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society and Owensboro Health Foundation. Owensboro Health also matches $0.50 for every $1 employees donate during this giving campaign.
MN: People like to talk about aging populations as one distinct group, which is an obvious oversimplification. Are there certain cultural, economic or other categories that you have found to have particularly challenging needs?
BB: When we look at the population over 65, it’s also important to take into account the fact that our aging population is living longer than ever before. The health concerns of a person are not static as they age, so the health challenges faced by someone who is 65 are often very different from those faced by someone 20 years older.
Likewise, we also find that certain health problems are highly tied to genetic, social and economic factors. We know that certain populations, such as African-Americans, are more likely to develop certain types of cancers and other chronic diseases. We also know that socioeconomic status plays a large role in diseases like diabetes.
In order to better serve aging patients and deal with all the variables, we’ve begun adapting the way we care for them. A multidisciplinary approach, we have found, can greatly increase the effectiveness of our efforts to improve the quality and safety of care. We pool together the knowledge and experience of physicians, nurses, pharmacists, therapists, dietitians and more, and we’ve found that the unique perspective from each of these fields can greatly enhance the care we deliver. An example of this that is highly relevant to our aging patients is our Delirium Team.
MN: What needs do you see in the community for serving the aging population? For example, are there enough transportation options, day programs, etc.?
BB: Transportation is most definitely a key issue for the aging population in our region. Because many of the counties we serve have large percentages of their populations living in rural areas, it can be a challenge to offer access points for care, to say nothing of reaching these individuals for purposes of educating them about and engaging them in their own health. As mentioned above, Owensboro Health is proud to partner with agencies that can address problems like this. One such local social service agency is Audubon Area Community Services, which operates the Green River Intra-County Transit System. GRITS buses operates throughout the area and can help safely transport individuals, including the elderly. Golden Partners at the Healthpark also offers a bus service to seniors, which can be very important to helping them maintain independence.
Education and engagement with the aging population are a priority for us as well. One example of our efforts to reach out to our local communities is an educational series at the Healthpark called “The Doc is In.” This educational series, which began earlier in 2016, puts Owensboro Health physicians in front of an audience to discuss and take questions on a variety of topics. So far, we’ve covered the topics of colorectal cancer prevention, aging gracefully (maintaining physical activity and avoiding mobility-reducing injuries like falls) and more. We intend to keep these sessions going because they’ve been so well-attended and audiences have responded so positively to the physician presentations and the Q&A sessions that follow.
MN: What surprised you the most about seniors when you studied various aging populations to tailor your services to their needs – and are their needs continuing to evolve? In what way?
BB: One of the most surprising things about caring for the aging population is that we still have so much to learn about what kinds of care these people need and how to deliver it. Because life expectancies are increasing, healthcare providers everywhere are writing the book on how to care for those aging individuals. As more people live into very advanced age, we learn the problems they face with regards to their health, including physical changes, mental and cognitive changes, and more.
Learning how to care for older individuals is very challenging because we have so few providers with specialized education, training and experience in the area of geriatric care. The care of these individuals can be extremely complex, as they have limited resilience, so the multidisciplinary approach mentioned earlier is essential.
Currently, 86 percent of all healthcare costs in the United States go to care that treats chronic diseases. When you also consider that older individuals are more likely to have one or more chronic problems, and that the aging population is growing, there is no choice for the world of healthcare. We must adapt to meet the needs of the aging population. We also need to take what we learn today and apply it in the future, because preventing these chronic diseases in younger generations must be a priority. How we evolve is the big question, and the way we answer it will continue to evolve as we learn what we can do to better serve these patients.