In response to the needs and demands of an aging population, geriatric medicine has grown rapidly during the past 3 decades. The discipline has defined its core values as well as the knowledge base and clinical skills needed to improve the health, functioning, and well-being of older persons and to provide appropriate palliative care. Geriatric medicine has developed new models of care, advanced the treatment of common geriatric conditions, and advocated for the health and health care of older persons. Nevertheless, at the beginning of the 21st century, the health care of older persons is at a crossroads. Despite the substantial progress that geriatric medicine has made, much more remains to be done to meet the healthcare needs of our aging population. The clinical, educational, and research approaches of the 20th century are unable to keep pace and require major revisions. Maintaining the status quo will mean falling further and further behind. The healthcare delivery and financing systems need fundamental redesign to improve quality and eliminate waste.
The American Geriatrics Society (AGS) Task Force on the Future of Geriatric Medicine has identified five goals aimed at optimizing the health of older persons:
- • To ensure that every older person receives high-quality, patient-centered health care
- • To expand the geriatrics knowledge base
- • To increase the number of healthcare professionals who employ the principles of geriatric medicine in caring for older persons
- • To recruit physicians and other healthcare professionals into careers in geriatric medicine
- • To unite professional and lay groups in the effort to influence public policy to continually improve the health and health care of seniors
Geriatric medicine cannot accomplish these goals alone. Accordingly, the Task Force has articulated a set of recommendations primarily aimed at the government, organizations, agencies, foundations, and other partners whose collaboration will be essential in accomplishing these goals. The vision described in this document and the accompanying recommendations are only the broad outline of an agenda for the future. Geriatric medicine, through its professional organizations and its partners, will need to mobilize resources to identify and implement the specific steps that will make the vision a reality. Doing so will require broad participation, consensus building, creativity, and perseverance.
The consequences of inaction will be profound. The combination of a burgeoning number of older persons and an inadequately prepared, poorly organized physician workforce is a recipe for expensive, fragmented health care that does not meet the needs of our older population. By virtue of their unique skills and advocacy for the health of older persons, geriatricians can be key leaders of change to achieve the goals of geriatric medicine and optimize the health of our aging population. Nevertheless, the goals of geriatric medicine will be accomplished only if geriatricians and their partners work in a system that is designed to provide high-quality, efficient care and recognizes the value of geriatrics.