April 12, 2024

Study Reveals Older Adults Spend an Average of Three Weeks Each Year Receiving Health Care Outside the Home

A recent cross-sectional study conducted on more than 6,500 adults aged 65 years and older has shed light on the average duration of time older adults spend receiving health care outside of their homes. The study, which aimed to evaluate care for this demographic group, found that older adults spend approximately three weeks each year seeking health care services outside the comfort of their own homes. Interestingly, 11% of older adults within the nationally representative group spent 50 or more days per year receiving health care services.

These findings highlight a patient-centered metric known as “health care contact days,” which not only measure access to necessary care but also take into account the significant time, effort, and cost older adults and their caregivers devote to seeking medical attention. The study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, indicates the need to optimize contact days for older adults and their families, as there may be both opportunities and challenges associated with this aspect of health care.

The study’s results suggest several areas of improvement in the utilization of contact days. Notably, it revealed that half of the days spent undergoing medical tests did not coincide with doctor’s visits, indicating the need for better coordination in scheduling tests and appointments. Additionally, the study found that office visits, tests, and procedures were less likely to occur on Fridays compared to other weekdays, highlighting a potential inconvenience for patients seeking care.

Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School based their study on data from the Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey, analyzing the composition, variation, patterns, and factors associated with contact days among 6,619 adults aged 65 years and older. On average, older adults spent a total of 20.7 days throughout the year seeking health care outside their homes. Out of these, 17.3 days were dedicated to ambulatory services, such as office visits, tests, and procedures.

The study identified various factors associated with an increased number of contact days. These factors included younger age, female sex, white race, non-Hispanic ethnicity, higher income, higher educational attainment, urban residence, the presence of multiple chronic conditions, and certain care-seeking behaviors, such as seeking medical attention as soon as symptoms arise.

While the findings provide valuable insights into the extent of patient interactions with different components of the health care system, the authors of an accompanying editorial from Weill Cornell Medicine and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center caution that patient preferences regarding contact days may vary significantly. They emphasize that the study does not examine whether individual contact days are clinically necessary and suggest that additional research, including qualitative studies involving patients and relevant stakeholders, is essential to gain a comprehensive understanding of the circumstances surrounding health care contact days and their impact on patient care.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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