Despite the intensive education and training required, geriatricians are some of the lowest-paid and least available medical specialists in the U.S. This is one reason the elderly across the nation face a serious problem finding the care they need.
According to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, there are currently 50 million Americans aged 65 and over. By 2050, this number is projected to reach 83.7 million. Still, the New York Times recently revealed that 97% of medical students do not take a single course on geriatrics — defined as the branch of medical science dealing with the health and care of the elderly.
This lack of readily available expert care is causing concern for many families, as they’re unable to care for their relatives today or prepare for their own senior citizenry tomorrow.
A Lack of Care
Unfortunately, Marcy Cottrell Houle, author of the New York Times article, has experienced this lack of expert care firsthand. When her father was 70, he began to act out towards his nursing home aides, causing the caretakers to prescribe him mood stabilizers. According to one nurse, “Patients often get like this when they have Alzheimer’s.”
But he didn’t have Alzheimer’s. Doubting this diagnosis, Houle decided to reach out to a leading geriatrician and researcher who subsequently revealed that the cause of his mood swings was actually unbearable pain. Her father was immediately taken off mood stabilizers and instead placed on painkillers — and sure enough, his violent outbursts stopped.
Stories like these highlight the need to overhaul the way we care for the elderly. The aides in charge of Houle’s father’s care didn’t prescribe the wrong drug out of malice — they simply didn’t know better. Again, we can point to lacking the correct type of education as the likely cause. Fortunately, Houle was in a position enabling her to reach out to a licensed geriatrician and find the proper care. However, many others are not.
Dr. Rosanne Leipzig, a geriatrician at Mt. Sinai Medical Center, New York, is trying to bring greater awareness to this problem. “Both geriatrics and palliative medicine are specialty fields, so there are certain basics that all doctors need to know,” she said in a recent interview in Future Medicine.
“I think that we need to help clinicians understand when it’s very helpful for patients to be seen by geriatricians or palliative medicine doctors.” But broad institutional changes take time, and many patients aren’t aware that they should be seeking additional help.
The American Geriatrics Society recommends one specialized geriatrician per every 700 aging residents. However, that number will likely be closer to one in 5,000 by 2030. Most geriatricians receive relatively little pay for their considerable workload and are reimbursed solely by Medicare and Medicaid. Both these programs are funded through federal and state-level sources, and their going rates are often too low to sustain a full-time office.
But for people who can’t find satisfactory care for the elderly, there are alternatives. SingleCare offers access to a broad network of physicians, specialists, and geriatricians, all at affordable prices. SingleCare connects members to the best treatment possible, and pre-negotiates the most fair rate for patients.
More than that, members only pay for the care they receive instead of all the extraneous costs associated with traditional health insurance, which is perfect for filling the tricky gaps in treatment.
(Main image credit: George Redgrave/flickr)