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AMA, BCBSA Host Conference to Overcome Health Care Challenges Facing Aging Americans; Conference Recommendations Will Help Shape National Policy on Aging


CHICAGO, July 21 -- As the first wave of baby boomers prepares for retirement, the American Medical Association (AMA) and Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) today co-hosted a conference to address the health care challenges facing this rapidly aging patient population.

The Official White House Conference on Aging (WHCoA) Mini- Conference on Health Literacy and Health Disparities event is a pre-conference forum to the WHCoA meeting scheduled for December 2005. The WHCoA, which only occurs once per decade, makes aging policy recommendations to the President and Congress, and assists the public and private sectors in promoting dignity, health, independence and economic security of current and future generations of older patients.

According to recent estimates, the first wave of 78 million baby boomers will begin to turn 60 in 2006. By 2030, one in five Americans will be age 65 or older. Studies show that low health literacy rates are more common among the elderly and that health literacy appears to decline with age.

“Millions of Americans have low health literacy. These patients have a limited ability to understand and use essential information about their health and medical care,” said Joanne Schwartzberg, M.D., AMA director of aging and community health. “As physicians and health care professionals, we need to design better health care systems that will improve health literacy and meet the needs of our aging patients.”

America’s aging population is also growing more culturally and linguistically diverse, heightening the need to address health literacy. “Improving care for millions of seniors means overcoming cultural and communication barriers to appropriate care,” said Allan Korn, M.D., chief medical officer of BCBSA, in opening remarks at the conference. “Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans across the country are implementing innovative programs in care management and providing important tools to help consumers make informed healthcare decisions for themselves and their families.”

Today’s event, held at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, brought together physicians, patients, health plans and other health-related organizations from across the country to examine disparities in the current health care system and identify areas for improvement. Presenters examined ways to enhance patient-physician communication and incentives to improve quality through patient-centered primary care. The conference also looked at several approaches to reduce the risk of medication errors-a health care challenge that affects seniors more than any other patient population in the U.S.

“The majority of fatal medication errors in hospitals affect older patients. On average, each senior fills more than 30 prescriptions per year and seniors account for 40 percent of all medication use,” said Dr. Schwartzberg. “Finding ways to more clearly communicate with our patients about their medications is the best way to reduce errors and save lives.”

Today’s speakers included David W. Baker, M.D. M.P.H., chief, General Internal Medicine at Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine; Bryan A. Liang, M.D., Ph.D., J.D., executive director, Institute of Health Law Studies, California Western School of Law; Minda Gralnek, vice president, Creative Director, Target, Inc.; and patient advocate Toni Cordell. More information can be found online at .


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