Symptom Assessment Solutions for In-Home Supportive Services and Diverse Older Adults: A Roadmap for Change

J Palliat Med. 2018 Oct;21(10):1486-1493. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2017.0704. Epub 2018 May 31.


Background: Millions of older adults require Medicaid-funded home care, referred to as In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS). Many of these individuals experience serious illness, disability, and common symptoms such as pain and shortness of breath.

Objective: To explore whether and how to integrate symptom assessment into an IHSS program to identify and manage symptoms in diverse older adults who receive in-home care.

Design: Qualitative study comprising 10 semistructured focus groups.

Setting and subjects: Fifty San Francisco IHSS administrators, case managers, providers, and consumers.

Measurements: Two authors double-coded transcripts and conducted thematic analysis.

Results: Four main themes emerged from the data: (1) Large unmet needs: gaps in understanding, training, standard assessment, and untreated symptoms, including identifying loneliness as a symptom; (2) Potential barriers: misunderstanding of palliative care, consumer reluctance, and the added burden on IHSS workforce; (3) Facilitators: consumer and provider buy-in and perceived benefits of such a symptom assessment program, and the ability to build on current IHSS relationships and infrastructure; and (4) Implementation logistics: taking an individualized, optional approach; consider appropriate messaging about quality of life and not end of life; and creating standardized, easy-to-use procedures, tools, training, and workflow to support providers.

Conclusions: An IHSS symptom assessment program is desired, needed, and feasible and can leverage the established IHSS infrastructure and relationships of consumers and IHSS providers to assess symptoms in the home. Acknowledging consumer choice, developing appropriate tools and trainings for IHSS staff, and effective messaging of program goals can contribute to success.

Keywords: In-Home Supportive Services; diverse older adults; geriatrics; palliative care end-of-life issues; symptom assessment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • California
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Home Care Services*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medicaid
  • Middle Aged
  • Qualitative Research
  • Symptom Assessment*
  • United States