Geriatrics to the Rescue
A key question for health care in general and for the survival of Medicare takes care of our fast-aging population. Most middle-aged Americans can now expect to live into their 80s and even 90. This is good news for baby boomers, but that longevity is often added to a proliferation of chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes and depression.
One of the main issues for health care in general and for the survival of the Medicare system is caring for our fast-aging population. Most middle-aged Americans can now expect to live into their 80’s and even 90’s. This is good news for the baby boomers but with that added longevity often comes a proliferation of chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes and depression. These chronic diseases are the number one driver of health care costs. This has become one of the main challenges to the system as life expectancies continue to increase and chronic conditions that come as a result must be treated.
A potential solution to this issue is a sub-specialty of internal medicine, known as geriatrics. Geriatrics encompasses the scientific study of aging, the teaching of care regimens, and the provision of clinical care to older people, especially those that are the most vulnerable.
The first challenge lies in delivering the care seniors need. This will require some rebalancing of the health care workforce as there are only 7,000 geriatric general practitioners in America today. The rebalancing will also have to include biomedical researchers and academics that focus on geriatrics and can conduct research, develop and implement better models of care delivery, and provide leadership and training the next generation of doctors.
One the biggest challenges in recruiting new doctors will require a fresh approach to geriatric medicine in order to attract medical students and even mid-career doctors to the field. A second challenge is that geriatrics is a relatively new field that isn’t always highlighted during the medical education process.
The positives are that geriatrics has a lot going for it in terms of cutting edge therapies and techniques. These areas include stem cells, gene sequencing, a cure for Type 2 diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. New areas of study are also emerging in the areas on a regular basis as geriatrics researchers take on medicine’s most essential questions. Another positive is that, as a new field, the competition for patients isn’t near as heavy as in the more established areas of study.
Developing a robust geriatrics industry by bringing more medical students to pursue geriatrics research careers, providing support for that research, and translating it promptly into practice for the benefit of patients everywhere must be among our highest funding priorities. The young field of Geriatrics is not just important to the health of millions of older patients; it is increasingly essential to the well-being of health care in the United States.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR