Seniors Not Accessing Critical Preventative Health Services

A new report out of the US Department of Health and Human Services Office highlights how few seniors are currently accessing critical preventative health services, with minority seniors even less likely to receive these services. Findings indicate that if seniors received the 20 recommended prevention services (including potentially life-saving screenings and vaccinations), over two million people would have been alive during 2006, translating into roughly 780 people in a city of 100,000 residents living longer without an increase in net healthcare costs. And as the report notes, one of every five Americans is expected to be 65 or older by 2030, with those 80 and older constituting the fastest growing segment of the total population, so the importance of these services will only increase.

Reasons cited for the failure of seniors to access these preventative services include the lack of a primary care provider or “usual source of care;” physical or social barriers including poor access to transportation, disabilities, or linguistic or cultural barriers; and a lack of patient awareness about prevention recommendations and which services are covered by Medicare.

Some patients may take a more passive approach to care and wait for their providers to suggest prevention strategies, while their providers may not prioritize prevention, may lack the time to explore these concerns with their patients, may be unaware of the relevant prevention recommendations for their older patients, or may not trust in the safety or effectiveness of certain preventative methods, such as vaccinations.

Disappointingly, the report – entitled Enhancing Use of Clinical Preventative Services Among Older Adults – does not reference the need for HIV/AIDS risk assessment, education, and testing. It does touch on a range of other critical screenings, including breast cancer, colorectal cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, lipid disorders, blood pressure and depression, as well as other prevention services such as vaccinations for influenza and pneumococcal disease and smoking cessation programs. And many of the report’s recommendations are equally applicable to HIV/AIDS education and screening, including promoting annual wellness visits where patients have meaningful and informed conversations with their providers; tailoring prevention messages and services to meet their unique needs; reducing structural barriers to accessing services; and offering “one-stop-shopping,” access to multiple services at the same time and location.