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Medical Advances

What’s Next: Senior-Friendly Hospitals

Why It Matters More Than Ever

One in 7 Americans is older than 65, and an additional 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 every day. As the American health system is faced with a growing demand for geriatric care, hospitals are working to find innovative ways to meet the unique, often complex, medical needs of older patients.

What It Means to Be Senior-Friendly

Northwestern Memorial Hospital is setting a standard for senior-friendly health care. The hospital provides specialized, age-appropriate care to older patients by providing access to expert geriatric care at every touchpoint the patient has with the hospital.

“Health care has changed over the lifetime of these individuals,” says Scott M. Dresden, MD, Emergency Department physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and director of the Geriatric Emergency Department Innovations (GEDI) Program. “Often, they’re getting care from multiple clinicians. Our goal is to come alongside and help them navigate the system.”

Better Geriatric Care

Northwestern Memorial Hospital is ranked No. 9 in the country for Geriatrics by U.S. News & World Report, 2018 – 2019. It was the first hospital in Illinois to receive the American College of Emergency Physicians’ highest tier of accreditation — a Level 1 Geriatric Emergency Department. Through the GEDI Program, a specially trained group works with older patients to reduce unnecessary hospitalizations, help them get the care they need and return home. The team includes hospitalists, case managers, social workers and emergency department employees.

“Emergency departments are not originally designed with older adults in mind. They focus on the most acute complaints and do not fully evaluate the underlying issues that led to that acute problem,” says Dr. Dresden. “We have created a new nurse role, a geriatric nurse liaison, who can work with the patient to determine underlying issues that led to the visit and, more importantly, identify any potential complications ahead.”

Additional processes are in place to ensure a more holistic approach is taken, even after the patient leaves the hospital. “The aim is to improve interactions so that they are receptive and comfortable with the care they are receiving after they leave the hospital,” says Section Chief of Geriatrics Lee A. Lindquist, MD, MPH, MBA. This approach is supported by Dr. Lindquist’s recent research, which revealed reasons why seniors resist care at home.

The Return of House Calls

The Northwestern Medicine Home Care Program is an innovative program based on an old tradition: house calls. The program allows clinicians to deliver care to patients at home, which gives them insight into the patient’s health by allowing them to better understand the patient’s lifestyle and routine. The goal is to reduce nursing home placement, reduce healthcare costs and offer a better patient experience. The Home Care Program is offered to patients from Northwestern Memorial Hospital; HomeCare Physicians provides a similar service for homebound patients of all ages in the west suburbs.

“Many seniors think that accepting help will cause them to leave their home to go into a care setting,” Dr. Lindquist explains. “It’s actually the reverse. It’s about enabling them to stay in their homes longer by accepting help.”

How It Impacts You

Aging adults have more healthcare needs than their younger counterparts, and are more likely to have medical complexities and chronic conditions. Whether it’s you or someone you love in the 65 and older age group, choosing a physician or hospital dedicated to tailoring care to meet the unique needs of geriatric patients can make a big difference in quality of life.

“When underlying issues are not addressed in the emergency department, patients are often hospitalized unnecessarily, or they can be discharged unsafely,” says Dr. Dresden. “The GEDI program works to prevent both unnecessary hospitalizations and unsafe discharges and is a reflection of our commitment to patient safety.”