Health care for seniors these days all too often focuses on the ill and the infirm, bedridden and beholden to physicians and nurses. Less attention goes to those who could most benefit from education and preventative care: those who aren’t yet acutely "sick" but — without intervention — may be on a glide path to needing long-term care.
It’s a system that desperately needs to change, or at least accommodate alternative models, especially in this era of increased lifespans and rising medical costs.
Such is the aim of Arizona-based nonprofit Sun Health Services with its Sun Health Center for Health & Wellbeing.
At our recent Healthcare Summit, Ron Guziak, president and chief executive officer of Sun Health, discussed the need to offer more services targeted to the "middle tier" of seniors. Health systems often develop a focus on those that are acutely ill or have unmanaged chronic conditions that lead to expensive hospitalizations and emergent treatment. But the largest number of seniors are often ignored when it comes to care innovations.
"If we focus only on the sickest of the sick while ignoring the others," Guziak said, "We in a sense create more sickest of the sick."
He noted that, at any given time, three to five percent of the senior population is the sickest, representing the overwhelming majority of the cost, and 12 percent undergo surgeries, cancer treatment, and other emergencies. The other 85 percent deem themselves healthy and only occasionally use healthcare services.
Sun Health’s aim is to provide health and wellness services for that "healthy" 85 percent.
"If we focus only on the sickest of the sick while ignoring the others," Guziak said, "we in a sense create more sickest of the sick."
The Sun Health Center for Health & Wellbeing offers community educational solutions that are personalized, delivered primarily face-to-face, made appropriate for a patient’s health literacy, reflective their goals and focused on self-management of chronic conditions and risk reduction.
Some of the center’s offerings include an eight-week course on diabetes self-management education; a 12-week series on pre-diabetes; personal sessions on nutrition with a registered dietician; and programs on balance, strength training and senior fitness.
Sun Health Care Transitions, funded by CMS, has been the top program of its type in reducing hospital readmission. It is supported by a robust community education program, focused on chronic disease management and medication management and has served thousands of individuals in the last four years.
The Care Transitions program, Guziak said, is important because fewer than 50 percent of patients understand instructions about how to care for themselves after discharge, and without assistance it is reported that 50 percent of patients will likely have a clinically significant medication error, often returning them to the hospital.
Guziak also noted that those who are concerned about their health and wellness are willing to pay for these services, which, he said, are offered at reasonable rates on a membership and subscription basis. "When individuals are educated and engaged in how to take charge of their health, they have a desire to learn more," he said.
Sun Health’s success with these programs helps to shed light on how to prepare for aging Boomers: focus on health management and wellness. There will be a viable market for these services.