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Penn Nursing Think Tank: A National Conversation is Essential to Addressing Challenging Needs of an Aging Population

Over forty percent of all older adults in the United States are living with four or more chronic illnesses, receive care from a fragmented health care system, and are struggling with rising costs and uneven quality. To confront this national crisis, more than fifty health system leaders, policy makers, innovators, and scholars convened last week to identify actionable recommendations designed to transform care delivery for older adults with complex health and social needs and support their family caregivers.

The University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing (Penn Nursing) and its NewCourtland Center for Transitions and Health sponsored the two-day, invitation only “think tank,” Assuring High Value Care for Vulnerable Older Adults and their Caregivers: Maximizing the Contributions of Nurses, on May 2-3, 2018, held on the University of Pennsylvania campus.

The goal of this meeting – led by Mary Naylor, PhD, RN, FAAN, the Marian S. Ware Professor in Gerontology, and Nancy Hodgson, PhD, RN, FAAN, the Anthony Buividas Term Chair in Gerontology– was to recommend a path to improve the value of health care for older adults with complex chronic conditions. Meeting participants focused on three significant opportunities to achieve high-value care in the next few years: accelerating the use of evidence-based care models; increasing partnerships with health care consumers; and, advancing the use of emerging health care innovations. 

Two high-level recommendations that emerged from this meeting include the urgent need to:

  • Launch a national dialogue on how to address, in our health and social systems, what matters to chronically ill older adults and their family caregivers.
  • Facilitate health system transformation and payment and policy changes to support adoption and adaptation of high-value care models.

“We need to stimulate a national conversation that engages the diverse perspectives of all stakeholders, most importantly those of older adults and their family caregivers in telling us what matters most to them,” said Hodgson, who is also an Associate Professor of Nursing.

Additional recommendations focused on positioning nurses to take on leadership roles in implementing high value care models for chronically ill older adults and their family caregivers, and to prepare future nurses as health innovators and catalysts of system transformation. Focus groups, conducted with older adults living with complex conditions in advance of the meeting, confirmed the role of nurses in advancing high value care. As one focus group participant stated “You might not know the extension of how far a nurse can go.”

“The care of older adults, especially those living with multiple health and social problems, is one of the most complex and costly priorities confronting societies across the globe,” said Naylor, who is also Director of the NewCourtland Center and a Senior Fellow at Penn’s Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics. “It is our hope that immediate action on these recommendations will substantially enhance the value of care delivered by health and community-based systems.”

The group’s full report will be available this summer.