Primary care providers who treat the elderly across eastern North Carolina recently received vital continuing education without ever leaving their offices, thanks to a pilot program provided by East Carolina University and Eastern Area Health Education Center.
The new Geriatric Medicine Academy is a series of six weekly lunchtime webinars that took place March 7 through April 11, with more sessions planned for the future. Leaders from the College of Nursing, College of Allied Health Sciences, Brody School of Medicine and the community gave the one-hour presentations from The Education Center at Eastern AHEC, which webcasted the sessions to providers throughout the region. The program is funded by the Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Program through the Health Resources and Services Administration.
Open to physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, pharmacists and others, this pilot program was limited to the first 25 participants – and filled up on the first day of registration.
“I think that speaks to a great need in our area. We’re enhancing the ability of providers to meet the needs of an aging population,” said Karen Goble, assistant director for continuing medical, dental and pharmacy education at Eastern AHEC, a non-profit affiliated with ECU.
Between 2000 and 2010, the largest increases in North Carolina’s age 65 and older population were seen in Brunswick, New Hanover and other eastern counties, according to the University of North Carolina Population Center.
“We have a large retirement population,” Goble said. “We’re an area of high priority.”
There are very few board-certified geriatric medicine physicians in the country, according to Goble.
“There’s a big gap across the U.S.,” she said. “Brody has geriatric medicine. Our goal is to bring this knowledge to the clinics in our area; we need to take it to them.”
From Currituck to Carteret, participants tuned in from across eastern North Carolina, accessing ECU’s expertise to help their patients without having to travel.
“A webinar is a very convenient way to earn continuing education credit, especially during lunch,” said participant Dr. Connie Pender, managing pharmacist at Wayne Memorial Hospital Pharmacy in Goldsboro. “Having a set of webinars specifically on dealing with issues regarding the elderly is of interest to me. I have an increasing number of retirees in my practice setting as well as aging parents so I was excited to see this program offered.”
The program covered a variety of topics, such as caregiver burnout, HIV in older adults, opioids and pain, frailty, polypharmacy (managing multiple prescriptions) as well as health care for older veterans.
“The session on HIV in older adults was especially informative,” Pender said. “It was eye opening to me to learn that 50 percent of HIV patients are over the age of 50. The presenter gave a great refresher on the mechanisms of action of the HIV medications, which was very helpful.”
The opening session focused on recognizing and preventing caregiver burnout.
“We might be living longer, but we’re living sicker; the goal is to stay healthier,” said presenter Kim Stokes, director of clinical education for the Department of Physician Assistant Studies in the College of Allied Health Sciences. “For the elderly, a caregiver could be a spouse or a whole team.”
More than 50 million Americans care for family members of all ages, according to Stokes.
“The definition of caregiver has expanded exponentially,” Stokes said. “The health and well-being of a patient and caregiver are closely linked.”
The purpose of the Geriatric Workforce Enhancement grant, which awarded $2.5 million in 2015 to the College of Nursing and its partners, is to develop a health care workforce that maximizes patient and family engagement and improves health outcomes for older adults by integrating geriatrics with primary care, according to Dr. Sonya Hardin, associate dean for graduate programs in the College of Nursing and the grant’s primary investigator.
“Our geriatrics funding helps prepare health care providers to meet the needs of the aging U.S. population and ensure improved health results for older adults,” said Hardin, who led the March 21 session on opioid use and abuse in older adults.
The response to the first round of webinars has been positive, according to Goble, and more sessions are planned for the future.
For more information on the Geriatric Medicine Academy, visit www.easternahec.net or contact Karen Goble at 252-744-6974 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For additional resources under the Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Grant, visit www.ecu.edu/cs-dhs/nursing/geriatric/.
-by Jackie Drake, AHEC