People in the UK are living longer, but not necessarily healthier, lives. The proportion of people who are very old is growing fastest. There are currently three million people over 78, and this number is expected to almost double by 2030 (ref: The Kings Fund 2012).
Advancing age is also associated with frailty. Frail, older people are likely to have multiple co-morbidities, poly-pharmacy, sensory and cognitive impairment – all of which are associated with an increased use of health and social services. Identifying frailty in an older person can help us predict who is likely to have a fall, become dependent on other people to help with basic care tasks, experience an unplanned admission, or die within the next year. Frailty is also associated with anxiety, depression, loneliness, social isolation, and a poorer quality of life. It is therefore important to identify patients who may be living with frailty and who are likely to be at risk of greater health and care utilisation in the future to help them stay well for as long as possible.
Mendip Vale Medical Group’s (MVMG) “Patient Connect Scheme” was designed to offer non-medical support, advice and improved communication to frail elderly patients over the age of 65 years old. Its intended benefits include:
For the patient:
- Help for the frail, lonely, and socially isolated elderly patients in the community;
- Improved quality of life, wellbeing and mental health for patients;
- Giving older people a sense of being properly valued and listened to;
- Treating older people with compassion, dignity and respect;
- Helping understand the particular needs of older people and making time to care for them in a person-centred way;
- Putting patients’ needs at the heart of our practice.
For the member of staff involved in the scheme:
- It’s a direct way to make a difference to someone’s life;
- Small acts of kindness can give staff a sense of purpose and boost self-esteem;
- It can make staff feel happier and more satisfied in the workplace;
- Helping and supporting other people, and working with others towards a shared goal, is good for our mental wellbeing.
For the practice:
- Reduce the dependency on practice health services for non-medical conditions;
- Reduce the amount of GP visits and A&E emergency admissions in this group of patients who may tend to seek help frequently from the practice;
- Improve communication between the Practice and elderly patients.
Testimonials from the Patient Connect Scheme:
Elderly patient said:
“It’s so lonely down here. I’ve been on my own now for 23 years. I was sick in bed once for nine days and no one even knocked on my door, to see if I was alright. My contact and I have a lot of things in common. We both like photography, she talks about her work. She’s so sweet and so caring. I just wait for her phone call. I dash to the phone because I know it’s going to be her. It gives me a lift, because I might not have spoken to anyone else all month. The age difference doesn’t seem to matter at all.”
A practice administrator said:
“I enjoy my telephone contacts with my patient. We found out that we both like nature and animals. We both like to talk, have a chat, that’s how we’ve got along so well really. Both of us come off the call in really high spirits. I feel good that I’m doing something to help someone, and to make her days a little bit brighter. And if I’m having a bit of a down day speaking to her really does cheer me up.
One of the reasons I love speaking to my patient is learning about someone who is from a completely different generation. We share stories from both of our childhoods, we’ve grown in completely different ways, but it’s great to hear about it and share experiences.
I’d encourage anyone to get involved; you get a sense of purpose and happiness from it. And you might be helping someone who is alone and really needs someone to talk to. It really doesn’t take long to make a difference to someone else’s life.”