Older adults who bring companions to medical visits may be more satisfied with medical care

July 14, 2008

More than one-third of Medicare beneficiaries appear to be accompanied by family members or companions during medical encounters, according to a report in the July 14 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals. Such medical visit companions may be associated with improved patient satisfaction, especially among beneficiaries in poor health.

Families are increasingly understood to be relevant to patient care, according to background information in the article. However, little is known about which specific attributes of their involvement are most helpful to patients or result in the greatest improvements in quality of care.

Jennifer L. Wolff, Ph.D., and Debra L. Roter, Dr. P.H., M.P.H., of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, and colleagues studied a sample of 12,018 Medicare beneficiaries 65 years or older who participated in a 2004 survey. These older adults were representative of approximately 30 million Medicare beneficiaries living in the community.

The researchers found that: Beneficiaries with regular companions were more highly satisfied with their physician's technical skills, information-giving and interpersonal skills. Those whose companions more actively helped with communication rated their physicians' information-giving and interpersonal skills more favorably. This relationship was stronger among patients who reported themselves to be in worse health.

"Findings establish that visit companions, most often spouses and adult children, are commonly present in older adults' routine medical encounters, actively engaged in the exchange of health information between patients and their physicians and influential in patients' perceptions of physician interpersonal rapport and information giving," the authors write. "Moreover, visit companions tend to accompany patients who are especially vulnerable; in this study, accompanied patients were older, less educated and in worse health than their unaccompanied counterparts."

"Results presented in this article suggest that patients' visit companions, hidden, but in plain sight, are a valuable quality of care resource whose efforts, if further optimized, could enhance the experience of care for millions of vulnerable Americans," they conclude.
-end-
(Arch Intern Med. 2008;168[13]:1409-1415. Available pre-embargo to the media at www.jamamedia.org.)

Editor's Note: Please see the article for additional information, including author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.

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