Las Vegas Sun

May 26, 2019

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Communication key in caring for Southern Nevada’s aging population

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Susan VanBeuge, assistant professor in residence, School of Nursing on July 1, 2014.

It takes a village to care for patients, and that means health care providers can’t work in a bubble. They need to talk to each other.

A UNLV program in its fifth year tries to get current and future health professionals to do exactly that — communicate to improve patient care.

Shortcomings are especially prevalent in elder care.

“What we find in health care is that we don’t all talk together very well,” said Susan VanBeuge, an assistant professor at UNLV’s School of Nursing, who helped design a training program to improve health care for the elderly. “The worst part is that patients sometimes don’t get great care because it’s fragmented.”

Consider the needs of a 70-year-old man who suffers from diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. If the multiple doctors, physical therapists and pharmacists he sees don’t communicate, he could undergo duplicate medical tests or be prescribed conflicting medications.

UNLV's one-day training program originally used Type 2 diabetes, a common condition among seniors, as the basis of its medical scenarios but since has expanded to include Alzheimer’s and dementia. During the workshop, nurse practitioner students, medical students, local physicians and other participants receive a fictional patient and must examine and develop a care plan with various providers for him or her.

“It’s really bringing people together and figuring out how we can talk,” VanBeuge said.

So far, more than 100 health providers have participated in the program, which is funded by federal grants. Follow-up surveys show that the providers use the coordinated-care model in their practices, VanBeuge said.

Nevada’s senior population, which has been growing faster than those in other states, is expected to double by 2032 and total more than 540,000, according to the Nevada Legislative Counsel Bureau. Because many seniors have multiple medical conditions, coordinated care is crucial. Providers cite time as the biggest barrier to communication, a problem that likely will intensify given predicted patient growth and the shortage of physicians in Southern Nevada.

VanBeuge, however, is optimistic that many providers want to find ways to make time for collaboration. UNLV's training program often has a waitlist, she said.

“I think it’s a testament that people want to get more information and do a better job at what they’re doing,” she said.

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