Leveraging census data and geographic information systems, researchers have mapped and analyzed areas of socially and medically vulnerable older adults in South Florida who previously have not been identified by traditional population-wide healthcare analyses.
GIS mapping is a valuable tool for policymakers to develop more targeted and low-cost methods to serve the healthcare needs of the elderly, particularly as the population of seniors is rapidly increasing, says Justin Stoler, an assistant professor in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Miami. He also believes hospitals and insurers could improve surveillance of older adults discharged to high- or emerging vulnerability areas as part of a larger strategy to decrease readmission rates.
Stoler, a geographer who specializes in public health, partnered with geriatric specialists and other geographers to conduct what he calls the first age-adjusted analysis of socially and medically vulnerable older adults in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties, incorporating socio-demographic factors such as age, sex, race, and ethnicity.
“South Florida is a demographically different type of place compared with the rest of the country, and we have a lot more older adults and all these retirement communities,” he observes. “When we analyzed the older neighborhoods, we found that relative to areas around them, there are places that are potentially underserved. We see some vulnerable areas popping up in places where we wouldn’t normally expect them.”
Their findings were recently published in The Gerontologist, a journal of the Gerontological Society of America. Results indicated that a majority of the population served lived outside of Health Resources and Services Administration-defined medically underserved areas and medically underserved populations, identifying a gap that Stoler contends needs further assessment.
Stoler and his colleagues found that a surprising number of older adults were in need of medical assistance but had inadequate access to health services. Nonetheless, they believe follow-up research could potentially improve access to care for these medically and socially vulnerable seniors.
“Geographic information systems and related geospatial techniques provide tools for depicting and understanding the dynamic spatial organization of healthcare, analyzing healthcare need, exploring access to care and outcomes, and improving healthcare delivery,” states their article. “By focusing the analysis on older segments of the population, we see slightly different geographic distributions of social and medical vulnerability, notably an emerging pocket of social vulnerability in central Broward County, and an emerging pocket of medical vulnerability in Palm Beach County.”
In addition, the authors conclude that the results from their study “could be further analyzed and paired with individual-level data from electronic health records to tailor individualized recommendations specifically for these vulnerable older adults."
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