Can Pharma Advance Better Healthcare for Older Adults?

A consensus has been forming for some time now that the healthcare delivery models that currently exist for most of the population simply do not work for older adults. Stakeholders in the healthcare community have recognized the need to rethink care options for the elderly and, in fact, new models and approaches are beginning to emerge that are showing much promise in elevating the quality of care for the older population of Americans.

The pharmaceutical industry can assume a leading role in advancing better pathways to therapeutic care for seniors by working with both clinicians and gerontologists. Those who specialize in delivery of care for older adults have the ability to raise awareness of the benefits of certain treatments versus what scenarios cause greater medical concerns due to the unique health profiles and needs of seniors.

The pharmaceutical industry can also help increase awareness and even lead additional training programs among care providers as well as family caregivers around important issues like polypharmacy. Dangerous medicine interactions can potentially occur for treatments of the many different chronic conditions typical among older adults. It is well proven that certain medications are harmful to seniors and can result in conditions such as delirium in hospitalized patients. The Beers Criteria of Potentially Inappropriate Medications in Older Adults is one especially important tool.

Pharma can also get involved and support existing programs that are providing better understanding of medication usage among older adults. One such example is the Hospital Elder Life Health Program, which The John A. Hartford Foundation strongly supports, that uses volunteer, nurses, and other hospital staff to prevent delirium. This includes education of clinicians about protocols on delivering the right kinds of medications. Pharma can also provide enhanced education around the appropriate administering of anesthesia drugs in preparation of surgery as well as of analgesic medications to control pain following surgery.

A New Delivery Model: Pharma and Older Adult Home Healthcare

Research has shown that hospital-level care can be provided effectively to older adults outside of the hospital setting. The John A. Hartford Foundation has been promulgating a model called “Hospital at Home” that actually takes older adults with serous conditions such as congestive heart failure and pneumonia and successfully delivers hospital-level care right in their own residences.

The Hospital at Home model requires having the right kind of medical equipment in the home as well as the right kind of access and delivery of medications that are going to be necessary to treat the older adult. Pharma can have a tremendous impact in supporting this model by cooperating with care providers and clinicians in devising the most effective and most suitable medication delivery therapies for older adults in the home setting. By doing this, pharma can further help advance the health as well as cost improvement outcomes that the Hospital at Home program is producing.

Older Adults and Medications Research Needed

Finally, pharma can put a greater focus on integrating illnesses and conditions typical among older adults into future drug R&D and launches. One critically important step the industry can take in this regard is to include a greater percentage of older adults in clinical trials, particularly for diseases like cancer where they may have different responses to chemotherapy medications and different responses to toxicity than the broader population.

  • Terry Fulmer

    Terry Fulmer is President of The John A Hartford Foundation. Dr. Terry Fulmer is a leading industry-recognized clinician and medical provider and expert on senior healthcare delivery issues.