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As U.S. Ages, Health Care May Need to Change
Date:12/31/2009

ng is done, researchers estimate that, by 2030, the number of geriatric physicians will have increased to only 7,750, far short of the predicted need at that time of 36,000.

"We are going in the opposite direction with that one," said Greg O'Neill, director of the National Academy on an Aging Society, a public policy research institute sponsored by the Gerontological Society of America. "We have fewer people certified as geriatricians than we did 10 years ago."

Unless alternatives are found, there also will need to be more beds available in nursing homes, chronic care facilities and hospitals to meet the elder boom. "It's about infrastructure and requires investments that no one at this time is prepared to make," Katz said.

The Institute of Medicine report argued for "bold initiatives" that would:

  • Increase training and retention of geriatric specialists
  • Educate the public about the best ways to care for aging family members and friends
  • Revamp the health-care system's model of payment and service delivery to make it more effective and efficient.

"We're going to have a health-care system that's much more oriented toward chronic disease rather than acute disease," O'Neill predicted.

Doctors and health-care workers might be able to lessen the impact by trying to change current health trends or by pursuing new forms of care, Katz said.

The notion of the "medical home," in which older people with chronic disease are treated where they live, is another concept that proponents of the idea say could save money and improve health.

"Chronic disease can be managed in settings other than the traditional health-care settings," Katz said. He also cited programs already in place that aim to prevent and treat disease via the telephone or Internet.

Placing even more emphasis on prevention could help stem the tide of chronic disease and ensure that more people enter
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