(Photo: Kaiser Health News)
(Photo: Kaiser Health News)

Medicare provides free screening on more than a dozen primary care tests, but a new poll shows that seniors are not receiving the benefit. The poll comes from the John A. Hartford Foundation and looked at Americans age 65 and older.

The Foundation was interested in whether seniors had received seven services that would support “healthy aging” including:

  • an annual medication review
  • falls risk assessment
  • screening for depression
Kaiser Health News reported details of the poll’s findings:

Notably, one-third of older adults said doctors didn’t review all their medications, even though problems with prescription and over-the-counter drugs are common among the elderly, leading to over 177,000 emergency room visits every year.

Falls cause over 2 million injuries in people age 65 and older annually, but more than two-thirds of the time doctors and nurses didn’t ask older patients whether they’d taken a tumble or provide advice about how to avoid tripping on carpets or slipping on the stairs, the Hartford poll found.

Similarly, depression can cause people to become socially isolated, suicidal, or stop taking care of themselves, but 62 percent of seniors said doctors and nurses hadn’t inquired about whether they were sad, depressed or anxious.

Only 7 percent of seniors received all the seven of the recommended services. Just over half (52 percent) received none or just one.

It’s especially surprising that doctors aren’t engaging patients in these wellness exams, since they get paid more for them. Again, from Kaiser Health News:

Medicare pays doctors about three times their ordinary office visit rate for asking about older adults’ ability to function, evaluating their mood, recommending preventive services, and connecting them with community resources during wellness visits.

“These are low tech, low cost interventions that are easy to do and that can have a huge impact on an older person’s medical care and their quality of life and function.  But too many providers and older adults don’t realize they’re important,” said Dr. Sharon Brangman, chairwoman of the board of directors of the American Geriatrics Society.

You might think that this gap in primary care might lead to dissatisfaction. But no. A full 97 percent of seniors reported being satisfied (and 69% “completely” satisfied) with the care they received from their primary care doctor.

Meanwhile, in the comments section of the Kaiser Health News story, one person wrote that both sides need to step up: “…older persons need education on how to interact and bring these issues up,” wrote J. James Cotter, and “physicians need to make better use of health educators who could do much of this.” But how hard is it to make both of these things happen?

Doctors Fall Short in Helping Seniors, Poll Reveals 24 April,2012Lisa Aliferis


Lisa Aliferis

Lisa Aliferis is the founding editor of KQED’s State of Health blog. Since 2011, she’s been writing and editing stories for the site. Before taking up blogging, she toiled for many years (more than we can count) producing health stories for television, including Dateline NBC and San Francisco’s CBS affiliate, KPIX-TV. She also wrote up a handy guide to the Affordable Care Act, especially for Californians. Her work has been honored for many awards. Most recently she was a finalist for “Best Topical Reporting” from the Online News Association. You can follow her on Twitter: @laliferis

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