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What Did Your Doctor Ask You? Not Much, Says Poll


Doctors are falling short in the primary care they offer Americans age 65 and older, says a new poll.

This is not about expensive medical procedures -- just some basic questions and interventions that could protect against future health problems as we age.

The new survey, from the John H. Hartford Foundation, looked at whether seniors had received seven services that would support "healthy aging."

The seven included:

  • an annual medication review,
  • a falls risk assessment and history,
  • depression screening,
  • referral to community-based health resources, and
  • discussion of their ability to perform routine daily tasks and activities without help.

Since January 2011, Medicare covers a free, annual wellness visit during which these seven questions should be asked, yet doctors aren't asking. Even more troubling, 68 percent of adults surveyed said they had not heard of the benefit or were not sure if they had heard of it.

The survey also found that only a tiny number  -- 7 percent -- of older adults surveyed received all seven recommended services. Fifty two percent said they received none or only one, and 76 percent received fewer than half.

 As Kaiser Health News reports, one-third of older adults surveyed said doctors didn't review all their medications, even though problems with prescription and over-the-counter drug interactions and misuse are common among seniors, leading to more than 177,000 emergency room visits every year.

Falls cause more than 2 million injuries in those age 65 and older, yet more than two-thirds of patients said their doctors and nurses didn't ask whether they had fallen or tripped recently, and less than 20 percent said they had been given advice on ways to prevent potentially dangerous falls.

This is not to say that older adults are dissatisfied with their care. The vast majority reported being satisfied with their primary care providers.

But Christopher Langston, program director of the Hartford foundation, thinks doctors need to do better caring for their older patients.

Asking the seven questions included in the survey is the type of low-cost, low-tech geriatric care that can lower patients' risk of a number of preventable health problems that "erode quality of life, increase health care costs, cause disability and even kill," he said in a statement.

"Older adults are not just older 40-year-olds. Older people need different care, and when they don't receive these kinds of evidence-based interventions, as many don't, the result is a lot of preventable disability and suffering," Langston said.

In other health news:

Salmonella in dog food sickens 14 people in 9 states. Federal officials said pet owners have been sickened by salmonella after handling tainted dog food from a South Carolina plant that a few years ago produced food contaminated by toxic mold that killed dozens of dogs, the Associated Press reports. Diamond Pet Foods has recalled a number of pet food brands made at the Gaston plant, including Canidae, Natural Balance, Apex, Kirkland, Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover's Soul, Country Value, Diamond, Diamond Naturals, Premium Edge, Professional, 4Health and Taste of the Wild.

FDA questions side effects of Arcalyst gout drug. Reuters reports that U.S. drug reviewers said Regeneron Pharmaceuticals' drug to prevent gout flares worked, but they questioned its side effects and whether it did enough to help patients. The Food and Drug Administration said Arcalyst, an injectable drug, suppresses the immune system and could increase the number of malignancies, according to clinical trials.

Men with breast cancer fare worse than women. Men rarely get breast cancer, but those who do often don't survive as long as women, largely because they don't even realize they can get it and are slow to recognize the warning signs, researchers say. The Associated Press reports that on average, women with breast cancer lived two years longer than men in the biggest study yet of the disease in males.

Under-age, too skinny models banned. Now, if they'd only use someone over 40. The 19 editors of Vogue magazines around the world announced a pact not to "knowingly use models who are under the age of 16 or appear to have an eating disorder," in order to project a more realistic image of healthy women. Skeptics wonder, though, whether this is more hype than health.  Vogue didn't address the widespread industry practice of digitally altering photos that critics believe promotes an impossible standard of beauty.

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