Chronic health conditions will play an increasing role in providing health care services to homeless people as the homeless population ages, researchers from the University of California-San Francisco found.
Researchers studied the demographic patterns of 3,534 homeless adults between 1990 and 2003 to determine trends in age, health, access to care, substance use and living status. During the study period, the median age of homeless individuals increased from 37 to 46, while the median number of months people remained homeless increased from 12 to almost 40. The study found that visits to the emergency department, hospital admissions and the rate of chronic conditions all increased over the study period.
Researchers suggested that communities include health care services in housing programs, a policy decision that could slow disease progression and prevent hospitalization for homeless people. Health care providers also might have to re-evaluate traditional methods of screening, prevention and treatment of chronic diseases among an aging homeless population, the authors said (Hahn et al., Journal of General Internal Medicine, July 2006).
Programs to train medical professionals to treat patients with limited English proficiency and providing language assistance services can help reduce disparities in health care access and overall health among patients who speak different languages, according to an analysis of data from the 2001 California Health Interview Survey.
Researchers from the University of California-Los Angeles examined data on 18,659 California residents ages 55 and older. The authors divided the participants into three groups:
- Those with limited English proficiency,
- Those who were proficient in English but spoke another language at home; and
- Those who spoke English only.
Researchers recommended that health care workers be specially trained in cultural sensitivity to address these disparities. In addition, health care systems should provide language assistance services to address the needs of an aging immigrant population, the study suggested. Such programs could improve access to treatment, quality of care and health outcomes, according to the authors (Ponce et al., Journal of General Internal Medicine, July 2006). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.