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Leadership Series

Exceptional Care for Older Adults at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center

By Elizabeth Kvale, MD, Section Chief of Geriatrics in Palliative Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine

March 04, 2024 Posted in: Leadership

At Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center, we are proud to again be recognized as a Best Hospital for Geriatric Care by U.S. News & World Report, but we’re not stopping there. Our team is committed to recognizing the individual needs of every older adult who enters our doors, ensuring the highest level of care and best possible outcomes. 

Older adult patients have unique needs, and we are dedicated to continuing to pursue our goal of being the premier hospital in Houston for this population. Every member of our team is an important part of that effort, which includes letting referring providers and families know that older adults are receiving care from a compassionate, experienced team.

Identifying the Need for Change 

Older adults constitute the largest percentage of inpatients, and these numbers will only continue to grow as the population of people 65 and older in the United States expands. Yet health systems are not always set up to meet the needs of these patients effectively. Older adults have unique vulnerabilities and are susceptible to certain geriatric syndromes and other complications when hospitalized, including:

  • Changes to cognition: Many older adults become confused or experience dementia or delirium when in a hospital setting. 

  • Depression: The natural distress accompanying sickness and pain, combined with being away from home in an unfamiliar hospital setting, can lead to depression, which can negatively affect outcomes during hospital stays and after discharge.

  • Loss of muscle mass: Older adults are especially vulnerable to losing muscle mass every day they spend in a hospital bed.

These are just a few of the specific challenges facing older adults, but many facilities are not equipped to provide the support this patient population needs. For example, physicians and nurses who lack experience in caring for older adults may not have the knowledge or training to prevent delirium or promptly identify the condition in the hospital, or they may underestimate the severity of the condition.

Focusing on Improved Care for Older Adults

At BSLMC, our geriatrics leadership has subspecialty expertise in establishing best practices to help patients get healthier faster and out of the hospital sooner, as well as managing syndromes such as delirium and decompensation. Geriatricians serve to help refocus the health system on problems specific to older patients. 

While the collective field of medicine has made enormous advances in recent decades, it’s important to remember that everything we can do isn’t necessarily always the best response for older patients. That’s why our geriatricians also focus on working closely with patients and their families to identify what matters most to them.

As geriatricians help older patients achieve better outcomes, health care systems also benefit in many ways. For example, reducing delirium can shorten length of stay and save hospital resources. Focusing on what matters most to patients and their families improves the overall patient experience. In these ways, geriatrics can provide a return on investment in both tangible and intangible aspects of care.

A Collaborative Effort

Another way our geriatricians work to achieve patients’ goals is to collaborate closely with other specialties. For example, when older adults need complex cardiology interventions, geriatricians work hand in hand with cardiologists to minimize risks and ensure that older patients get the special attention they need. 

Our geriatrics team also communicates closely with families to help them understand the potential risks and benefits of specific procedures and treatments. This high level of collaboration and care continues after treatment to ensure patients rehabilitate fully and return to good health.

Becoming a Premier Hospital for Older Adults

At BSLMC, we have long been recognized as a leading training program for geriatrics. We currently have six fellows in geriatric medicine on the faculty, and our trainees are committed individuals who come to us from all corners of the country. 

In addition to training physicians to use their expertise to improve geriatric care at their future facilities, our goal is to continue to expand our geriatric capabilities. As we look to the future, we will continue to work to be the premier hospital for older adults in the Houston area by striving to earn an Age-Friendly Health System designation. Hospitals that receive this designation aim to:

  • Cause no harm to patients

  • Follow evidence-based practices

  • Focus on what matters most to patients and their families

This is a difficult designation to achieve and takes the commitment of everyone across our entire health system, ensuring that all older adults receive the highest level of care at every point of contact. This means making sure their needs and concerns are met in every way so families can rest assured that their loved ones are in a caring environment that provides the most advanced treatments.

While we have already achieved a level of care we are proud to see recognized by our U.S. News & World Report designation, the field of geriatrics is constantly identifying ways to improve how we manage older adult patients. By staying at the forefront of these developments, we are poised to do an even better job for the patients under our care.

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