Background: Although the number of elderly people is progressively increasing in the world, old and very old patients have been under-represented and understudied in trials evaluating the efficacy of chronic illness management models. The usual hospital indicators and practice guidelines do not consider the effects of complexity - co-morbidity, social support, functional and cognitive status, patient adherence to therapy, risk of adverse drug reactions - in these subjects. The aim of this observational, multi-centric cohort study was to carefully assess factors contributing to the complexity of care for patients admitted to internal medicine wards. This was done by evaluating the severity of disease and degree of stability at admission, co-morbidity, age-related impairments, and the need for discharge planning plus post-discharge support.
Methods: A total of 386 patients from 11 internal medicine wards in Emilia-Romagna and Marche, Italy, enrolled in a given week were evaluated. At admission, the following variables were recorded: demographic characteristics, medical history, global clinical-social prognostic evaluation, co-morbidity, severity of illness, presence of shock or hemodynamic instability, coma, and frequencies and causes of unscheduled hospital re-admission.
Results: Cancer, congestive heart failure, pneumonia, stroke, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease were the most frequent primary diagnoses. The complexity of our case study was characterized by several concomitant diseases. Over 50% of the patients were considered severe or more than severe, and over 20% extremely severe, with very high co-morbidity indices and illness severity scores. Some 55% of our patients were in need of partial or total care; 10% had some speech impairment, and 63% needed in-home health care after hospital discharge.
Conclusions: The increasing numbers of elderly patients admitted to internal medicine departments suggests the need for a chronic illness management model, integrating gerontological and geriatric care to improve outcomes. For effective care, future protocols need to take a multi-dimensional, interdisciplinary approach to these patients and to develop a coordinated, integrated plan for treatment and long-term follow-up.