According to a new report from agencies of the US Department of Health and Human Services and published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in partnership with HHS’ Administration on Aging, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, critical gaps exist between older Americans who receive potentially lifesaving preventive services and those who do not. Clinical prevention services that many older Americans are missing out on include vaccinations that protect against influenza and pneumococcal disease; screenings for the early detection of breast cancer, colorectal cancer, diabetes, lipid disorders and osteoporosis; and smoking cessation counseling.
The report, "Enhancing Use of Clinical Preventive Services Among Older Adults: Closing the Gap," highlights the need to get the word out about preventive services for adults age 65 and older—services that are available to seniors and often covered by Medicare. "Millions of Americans are not getting proven clinical preventive services that we know can prevent disease and improve quality of life," said Lynda Anderson, PhD, director of the Healthy Aging Program at CDC and one of the primary authors. "The report takes stock of current levels of recommended services by older adults, and it becomes obvious that many of these services are woefully underutilized."
"We know prevention is critical to healthy living and independence," said Kathy Greenlee, assistant secretary for aging. "It is important that we continue our efforts at the community level to reach all older Americans. We want to ensure that they are aware of the preventive benefits which are available to them, including those made possible by the Affordable Care Act."
The report details the lack of use of preventive services by diverse populations, including these alarming statistics: percent of Asian/Pacific Islanders and 47 percent of Hispanics reported not being screened for colorectal cancer, and more than 50 percent of Hispanics, 47 percent of blacks and Asian/Pacific Islanders and 36 percent of whites report never receiving a pneumococcal vaccination.
According to the report, challenges underlying these disparities are complex and reach beyond the traditional health care arena of patient-provider interactions. Older adults may simply not be aware of the services recommended for their age group or may not know that the services are covered by Medicare.
"The section of the report titled ‘Making a Difference’ features innovative strategies applied at the local, state and national levels to increase the use of preventive services in underserved communities," said Wayne Giles, MD, MS, director, Division of Adult and Community Health at CDC. "By putting into practice effective community and clinical strategies, we can dramatically reduce the gaps highlighted in this report." Ways that the agencies will try to increase community access to health programs include making services available in convenient settings, such as providing influenza vaccinations at polling places on election days, and building awareness through media.
Contributors to and supporters of this report agree that the use of such services should be a high priority of community and health systems alike. While the benefit of expanded insurance coverage is substantial, it is also important that older adults take advantage of preventive services on a regular basis to ensure good health.
"If we can help patients age 65 and older get the recommended preventive screenings and regular immunizations, we could significantly reduce unnecessary illness," said Edward Langston, MD, an American Medical Association board member.
For more information about CDC′s health aging activities, view the full report.