Preparing for an Influx of Patients Without Advocates

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Karen Utterback By Karen Utterback 
Former Vice President, Product Marketing and Strategy, McKesson (Retired)
An elderly woman who could benefit from having a patient advocate

As healthcare providers, we’ll need to make many adjustments in the coming years to address the needs of our aging population. One that’s been somewhat overlooked until now is how to successfully treat patients without advocates.

According to The New York Times, the United States will have 19 million people over the age of 85 by 2050. Increasingly, those elderly individuals will not have family members to act as their healthcare proxy. In the past, so-called unfriended patients were mainly those with mental illness or part of the homeless population. Today, the Baby Boomer’s divorce and childlessness rate is contributing to an increasing number of patients who have outlived their support networks.

In 24 states and the District of Columbia, the government has stepped in, adding close friends to the individuals allowed to consent to or decline a medical procedure for a patient. Common sense tells us this trend is likely to continue, along with more hospital and/or payer programs designed to revamp the way end-of-life care is provided.

Of course, home care organizations are perfectly positioned to help provide guidance to other providers, even as they create processes designed to better care for patients without advocates. In fact, Carol Marak of SeniorCare.com says organizations can start now by partnering with local groups to form communities of care.

“Think about partnering with local resources, like volunteer groups who could be social companions and help the ‘alone’ person connect with like-minded people,” Marak says. Consider how your organization could pull together and build a community to serve older people by connecting with local colleges, senior centers, churches and libraries, she adds.

On the clinical side, Marak says now is the time to step up training so that caregivers think of themselves as chronic disease advocates. “They can help educate patients on specific conditions, how to remedy pain, what foods to eat, what type of exercise may help, and even where to go online to research their condition,” she says.

Patients without advocates present as many opportunities as they do challenges for home health providers. Learn how to seize new opportunities for care in this e-book.

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