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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Questionnaire intended to help doctors treat older adults

Older adults have different concerns than younger people when they come to their doctors' offices, so a Boston coalition has created a free tool to help primary care physicians recognize and meet their needs.

The Boston Partnership for Older Adults, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has designed a two-page questionnaire to guide primary care physicians, who give most older people their care. The group is made up of 200 organizations and individuals concerned about the needs of older people in the city.

The focus is function, said Clare Wohlgemuth, nursing director of the Boston University Geriatric Services at Boston Medical Center and chair of the partnership's health committee.

"Those of us who work in geriatrics know that for older folks, their function is totally equivalent to how they perceive their health," she said in an interview. "What we set about doing was to develop a geriatrician cheat sheet for other primary care providers to think in a functional way."

Function for older people means how well they are managing a household, what their quality of life is and whether they have a support network. Common geriatric problems a patient might not raise in an office visit are falls, urinary incontinence, sexual activity, or the burden of care they might be providing for someone else, Wohlgemth said. A companion questionnaire, without the code numbers for billing purposes that appear on the physician version, is meant to help patients raise these issues with their doctors.

The tool also refers physicians and patients to Boston ElderInfo for information on other services.

The tool is not a substitute for seeing a geriatrician, Wohlgemuth said, but that might not always be neccessary.

"Not everyone needs a geriatrician or geriatric trained nurse, but every good primary care provider needs to have sensitivity to what the special needs of older people are," she said.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 03:18 PM
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