Poll: 72% say the US healthcare system does not care for the elderly

Poll: 72% say the US healthcare system does not care for the elderly

About 72% of respondents to a National Partnership for Healthcare and Hospice Innovation (NPHI) survey said they didn’t think the US healthcare system was doing a good job of caring for the aging population.

NPHI conducted the survey in September in collaboration with Emergence Creative and consultancy SIR. The research follows a 2017 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation and The Economist to assess whether perceptions of health care have changed in the intervening years, particularly in light of the pandemic.

Of the 2,009 survey participants, 82% said they believe the system prioritizes profits over patients. Although 74% expressed a positive opinion of palliative care, only 31% expressed confidence in the healthcare system as a whole.

“The lack of trust in our healthcare system seems to be a real concern,” Carole Fisher, president of NPHI, told Hospice News. “Because what people don’t trust seems to be the profit aspects, making money from their illnesses when they feel most vulnerable.”

White respondents and those with health insurance expressed more confidence in the system than members of other communities and the uninsured.

Confidence was also higher among members of the baby boomer generation than among younger Americans. According to Debbie McCarron, director of special projects at NPHI, hospices may want to consider this when communicating with families about the care of their loved ones.

“It is striking to note that the younger generations are wary and do not feel ready. They will likely be the ones making some of those decisions for the aging generation in the years to come,” McCarron told Hospice News. “We talk a lot about trying to get people in earlier, and I think those are the people who need to be swayed a bit.”

Other key findings suggest that many in the United States do not believe the nation is ready to take care of the aging population or the associated societal impact. While 76% of respondents said they thought the aging population presented a problem, only 14% said the country was ready to deal with it.

Some of the key areas for improvement include support for caregivers, emphasis on end-of-life comfort care, and social determinants of health.

The findings also highlighted the need for greater communication between patients and providers about individuals’ end-of-life goals and wishes. Although 89% of respondents said they felt comfortable talking about death, 81% said they had never had a conversation about end-of-life care with a care provider health.

“People want to have these conversations, but maybe doctors who aren’t trained in palliative care and palliative medicine don’t know how to have a conversation,” Fisher said. “I really hope this research sheds light on the fact that healthcare systems and providers could do a better job of getting experts to have some of these difficult conversations, and we could partner in more collaborative ways to help people to understand their choices.”

Consistent with previous research, most respondents indicated that they would prefer to age in place and die at home, comfortably and without unmanaged pain. They also wanted to avoid placing the burden of their end-of-life decisions on their family members, although 66% said they had not documented their wishes.

According to Ethan McChesney, director of policy at NPHI, hospices may be able to use survey data to inform their work with the communities they serve.

“We know that only about 51 percent of Medicare beneficiaries in any given year use hospice care. So there is fertile ground for people who don’t have comprehensive, multidisciplinary end-of-life care,” McChesney told Hospice News. “I hope some of this research will help people in different markets differentiate themselves more effectively and market themselves better to emerging populations.”

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