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New Trend in Medical Care – Geriatric ER?

As I have written often, we will see many changes in the types of services and the ways they will be offered as the population continues to age, with 77 million baby boomers approaching senior status.  One interesting change, in which New Jersey is in the forefront, is the appearance of geriatric emergency rooms.

A recent Newark Star Ledger article in it’s March 26, 2013 issue reported that St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson, one of the first hospitals to open a geriatric emergency room in 2009, is now participating in a federally funded program to determine if such ERs can be replicated elsewhere.  So, how does a geriatric emergency room differ from an ordinary one exactly?

Everything about the treatment and patient experience is geared towards making the elderly patient more comfortable and decreasing repeat visits.  St. Joseph’s geriatric ER is set apart from its regular ER, away from the noise and crowds.  It focuses on coordinating the care provided by doctors, nurses, social workers and therapists so as to reduce the likelihood that elderly patients may return with the same illnesses and maladies.  This typically occurs because the senior, once released back home, doesn’t get the proper follow up care and services.

Because the geriatric emergency room staff only treat the elderly, they are more in tune with their patients’ needs while in the hospital, but also what they may need after they are released.  So, for example, asking the right questions to determine that a patient is living alone and arranging adult day care or home health services, is more likely to occur in a geriatric emergency room than a regular one, because of the specialized treatment and attention.

This will likely reduce the chance a patient may return to the hospital, thus saving big dollars.  And that’s important, with the coming wave of seniors in the next 20 years that will only increase healthcare costs for hospitals.  It’s also important to hospitals because, under Obamacare, the Medicare payments they receive for services are tied to how frequently patients are readmitted.

Besides the specialized care, the entire patient experience at St. Joseph’s geriatric ER is designed with the senior in mind, from softer lighting and less noise, to floors that are less slippery and mattresses with extra thickness to reduce the incidence of pressure sores.

It is clear that medical care is starting to focus more on the needs of seniors which are very different than those of younger patients.  This should improve care, both in the hospital and out, as patient needs are matched more accurately to the services that are available, many of which seniors and their families fail to take advantage of, simply because they are unaware that these services exist.