Using the telephone to complement healthcare

A telephone-based program linking chronically ill older adults to home or community services significantly reduces mortality risk, according to Dr. Gretchen Alkema of the Davis School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Here’s how it works.

Social workers called 781 adults age 65 and older with chronic health care conditions who were enrolled in Medicare. The calls were made monthly for a year to help them in making care arrangements. Participants were encouraged to call the care advocates at any time to ask questions.

During the 12-month active study period, the telephone program participants had about the half the risk of death, compared to older adults who didn’t receive personalized telephone services.

After 12 months, there was no difference in mortality risk between the treatment and control groups by 24 months.

I don’t think this long-term finding is surprising. There is a limit to what can be accomplished on the phone.

In my own experience with telephone care, I called my mother every day for about a year to assist her in taking her meds. Eventually, it was not enough. She fell, broke her arm, and started the downward spiral from independence to greater and greater nursing home care.

The extra year of independence we gained was worth every call. It’s something any child can do for their aging parents.

12/4/06 11:10 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at www.Vicus.com, a complementary and alternative medicine website.