Multiple chronic conditions and the aging of america: challenge for primary care physicians

J Prim Care Community Health. 2012 Jan 1;3(1):51-6. doi: 10.1177/2150131911414577. Epub 2011 Sep 7.


Background: As the United States population ages, chronic conditions are becoming more prevalent and our healthcare system is faced with increasing costs. This aging population with increased multiple chronic conditions coupled with increased burden of disease will provide a challenge to primary care physicians to provide quality care that is cost-effective. Therefore, we examined national data to study the impact of chronic conditions, age and caregiving on lifestyle burden.

Methods: Cross-sectional data from the 2009 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System were analyzed for the presence of 9 chronic health conditions, including angina/coronary heart disease (CHD), arthritis, asthma, cancer, diabetes, heart attack, hypertension, obesity, and stroke, and average number of chronic conditions among persons 50 years of age and older. Lifestyle burden, measured by activity limitation, required use of assistive devices, and/or serving in a caregiving capacity was measured and stratified by number of chronic conditions.

Results: All conditions except obesity and asthma increased with each age category. By age 70, the majority of adults had hypertension (60.7%) and arthritis (55.0%). Prevalence of activity limitations and use of assistive devices increased as did the numbers of chronic conditions.

Discussion: These findings point to a changing population of patients for primary care physicians that will require treatment of multiple chronic conditions as well as increased burden of disease. As this population grows, workloads for primary care physicians will increase and could likely lead to inefficient care and possibly inadequate payment for the required level of management. Therefore, the current challenge facing our healthcare system is to evaluate existing models of care for older patients and to develop new models that are cost-effective while at the same time providing fair reimbursement for increased management.

Keywords: aging; care giving; chronic disease; multiple chronic conditions; primary care delivery.