Long journeys for brain care are big challenges to older Americans

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A study led by Michigan Medicine highlights the challenges faced by older Americans, particularly those in rural areas, when seeking specialized care for brain and nerve issues.

The research focuses on Medicare beneficiaries, shedding light on the distances they must travel to access neurologists, the implications of these journeys, and potential solutions.

The Long Trips and Their Impact

Distance Traveled: Nearly 18% of older adults covered by Medicare had to travel 50 miles or more one way for their neurology appointments in 2018.

Extensive Travel: Patients who traveled long distances covered an average of 81 miles, taking approximately 90 minutes for the journey. In contrast, those with shorter trips traveled about 13 miles, spending roughly 22 minutes en route.

Rural and Specialist Scarce Areas: Patients traveling long distances often hailed from rural regions with limited access to neurology specialists. Specific conditions like ALS and nervous system cancers were associated with frequent long journeys.

Bypassing Local Specialists: Approximately one-third of patients bypassed closer neurologists to travel even farther, with about 7% crossing state lines for specialized care.

Solutions and Future Directions

Telemedicine Utilization: Experts suggest expanding the use of telemedicine to provide specialized care remotely, reducing the need for long trips.

Local General Practice Training: Enhancing support and training for local general practice doctors can empower them to manage straightforward neurology cases, bringing care closer to patients.

Patient Outcomes: Long journeys were associated with a 26% lower likelihood of returning for a second visit, underscoring the need for accessible care.

Unexplored Health Consequences: Researchers aim to delve deeper into understanding the long-term health effects of travel challenges on patients.

Impact of Telemedicine: The study investigates whether the increased adoption of telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic has improved access to care for patients requiring specialized attention.

Conclusion: The study illuminates the significant travel burdens faced by older Americans seeking specialized brain and nerve care.

These journeys can hinder follow-up visits, impacting patient outcomes. To address these challenges, healthcare solutions like telemedicine and empowering local physicians are being explored.

The ongoing effort aims to make specialized healthcare more accessible, particularly for those with complex conditions requiring neurology expertise.

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