A friend called me the other day: he is moving his 93 year old father from New England to the Bay Area.
This is, of course, a relatively common scenario: aging adult moves — or is moved by family — to a new place to live.
Seamless transition to new medical providers ensues. As does optimal management of chronic health issues. Not.
Naturally, my friend is anxious to ensure that his father gets properly set up with medical care here. His dad doesn’t have dementia, but does have significant heart problems.
My friend also knows that the older a person gets, the more likely that he or she will benefit from the geriatrics approach and knowledge base. So he’s asked me to do a consultation on his father. For instance, he wants to make sure the medications are all ok for a man of his father’s age and condition.
Last but not least, my friend knows that healthcare is often flawed and imperfect. So he sees this transition as an opportunity to have his father’s health — and medical management plan — reviewed and refreshed.
This last request is not strictly speaking a geriatrics issue. This is just a smart proactive patient technique: to periodically reassess an overall medical care plan, and consider getting the input of new doctors while you do this. (Your usual doctors may or may not be able to rethink what they’ve been doing.) But of course, if you are a 93 year old patient — or the proxy for an older adult — it’s sensible to see if a geriatrician can offer you this review.
When it comes to the health care of a frail older person, families really need a good personal health record (PHR) system. So I am once again preparing to take a look at what’s available, in hopes of finding something that I can more confidently recommend to the families I work with. (To see what medical info I urge families to track, see this Geriatrics for Caregivers post.)
I have — yet again — met a family with reams of paper health records. On one hand, they’ve done very well: at our first visit they were able to show me labs, MRI results, and even some specialty consultations from last summer. They even had a hospital discharge summary, although unfortunately not the one from the most recent hospitalization.
And they’d taken steps to digitally organize, having scanned several key items, as well as created an online space providing shared access to their parent’s information.
So this is better than the situation I often encounter, which is that an elderly person has seen multiple outpatient doctors, has been hospitalized in a few different facilities, and no one has a copy of anything handy. (See why new elderly patients are a killer in primary care? If there is no data you fly blind, if there IS data it can take hours to review it.)
Still, there are clearly many ways a little well-designed technology could improve things for this family – and for the doctors trying to help them.
Here are the problems we have right now:
- Hard to search the whole pile, whether on paper or via the family’s online repository of PDFs. These were not OCRed and searchable until I manually converted them with my own PDF editor, after which I had to upload them to the patient’s chart in my EMR. Now each file is text searchable (for me), but the pile still is not.
- Cannot trend the labs. Figuring out what has happened to this patient’s key lab values over the past year has been very labor-intensive. This remains a problem once the lab data is uploaded to my EMR, because it’s still in PDFs which have to be looked at one at a time. Being the nerdy doc that I am, I’ve spent a fair bit of time creating a note that summarizes the key lab data over time. Ugh. Better than nothing but a far cry from being able to graph and trend the patient’s labs as needed.
- Takes ongoing time and effort to get records from the hospitals and other involved doctors. Kudos to this family for being diligent and persistent in asking for copies of everything they can. But wow, it’s a lot of effort for them, and I can tell you that in my practice so far, I’ve generally had to expend a fair amount of energy repeatedly asking for information from other providers. (And then I’ve had to try to organize all this info which comes in as scanned images via fax. Oy!)