Primary Care that Fits Your Life

You’re just about to pack the last suitcase before you leave for your trip with your husband, first one since retiring last year, when the call comes in. Mom fell. For those caring for older loved ones, you know the drill – emergency room, long hours waiting for results, hospitalization, rehabilitation centers, more follow-ups, and most likely, canceling that trip.

But what if that wasn’t the experience you and millions of family caregivers faced? What if that entire situation was prevented? Or at least managed in a way that didn’t disrupt yours or your loved one’s life?

An in-depth report just released by Senior Housing News on ‘The Primary Care Opportunity in Senior Living shows how the primary care relationship is shifting, creating better opportunities to change the aging experience where a senior’s health journey begins right in their own homes, with a focus on senior living campuses. Much of this pioneering work is being done right here in Minnesota and includes Lifesprk as one of a few thought-leaders nationally who are bringing the primary care experience right to the senior – saving them money, improving health, and improving their long-term wellbeing before the ‘roller coaster of health crises’ even begin.

Nationally primary care visits are declining. It’s not because people are getting healthier, in fact, half of Americans have at least one chronic condition and more than 2/3rds of Medicare patients have two or more. People with chronic conditions need more preventive and proactive care to better manage disease progression and provide easy access to their primary care instead of repeatedly going to the emergency room. For far too many seniors, the easy button is all too often calling ‘911’ due to a variety of reasons, especially safety to ensure the issue is not something more serious.

These factors are part of the reason we launched Lifesprk Health, an on-site whole person primary care service that integrates ongoing holistic life care services to address life goals, including such issues as socialization, housing, transportation, activities, and living a meaningful life  as well as health goals. Lifesprk Health currently serves three SilverCrest campuses – Parkshore, Summit Place, and Village Shores – where Lifesprk also provides its proactive life care services to their residents.

Focus groups we held with adult children solidified the reason behind starting a whole person primary care service, not just the traditional medically-focused practice. We learned people want better medication management and alternative options for their aging loved ones instead of quickly prescribing new medications that may not be necessary. They wanted more proactive care that gets to the root of the issue, not just reactive care that treats symptoms. And one of the biggest themes we heard, people want someone on their team to advocate for their loved one when they can’t be there along. They also want stronger communication with them and their loved ones’ healthcare providers to understand the big picture.

“This feedback falls in line with what we know to be true,” says Joel Theisen, RN, CEO of Lifesprk. “People don’t want ‘care,’ they want independence and we have to help them achieve that instead of treating only symptoms and disease.”

Imagine then if your Mom fell and you could still go on your trip confidently knowing your mom was in good hands and every detail was taken care of, how would that ease your mind and hers? And kept her living life exactly how she wanted, too? It’s what happened to Ruthie, one of our Lifesprk Health clients.

At 93 with moderate dementia, Ruthie fell and broke her hip. As you know, health crises like these can hit out of the blue and disrupt everything, not to mention Ruthie’s confusion. But she didn’t go the ER, she wasn’t hospitalized, she didn’t have to leave her home and stay in a rehabilitation center, and she didn’t have several follow-ups with specialists afterwards.  What she did do was have lunch with her friends hours later just as she had planned.

Because Lifesprk Health was on campus, Ruthie was able to immediately connect with Lifesprk’s Life Care manager and primary care on-site provider who diagnosed, x-rayed, communicated to family members, and developed a care plan including services from Lifesprk Home Health for rehabilitation in the privacy of her apartment. This one experience saved her nearly $65,000 and kept her right where she wanted to be without exacerbating her confusion. She’s not an anomaly either; hundreds of seniors through Lifesprk Health are experiencing similar results.

But not every community-based primary care option sees these types of results. “I’ve delivered primary care in traditional, reactive, medically-driven settings where I wanted to do more but wasn’t able to,” said Cathy. “I’ve learned there are many life challenges that have nothing to do with medical issues and yet affect wellbeing. A whole person approach puts the focus on the full spectrum of support needed by seniors and it’s why we’ve seen the results we have. It makes all the difference.”

It’s about time primary care gets more proactive, more person-centered. It has to if we are going to change health outcomes for seniors by supporting their desire to live independently and as healthfully as possible. And never give up on what gives them purpose, what we call ‘their spark.’ For Ruthie that was having lunch with her friends.

No longer a question of ‘what if,’ as primary care gets more proactive, aging loved ones’ life experiences indeed get better. We want to hear your perspective, is your loved one’s current primary care experience helping them proactively age the way they want? Share on and then go pack those bags!