How do older adults with multimorbidity navigate healthcare?: a qualitative study in Singapore

BMC Prim Care. 2023 Nov 14;24(1):239. doi: 10.1186/s12875-023-02195-2.


Background: Patients living with multimorbidity may require frequent visits to multiple healthcare institutions and to follow diverse medical regimens and advice. Older adults with multimorbidity could face additional challenges because of declining cognitive capability, frailty, increased complexity of diseases, as well as limited social and economic resources. Research on how this population navigates the healthcare system in Singapore also remains unknown. This study investigates the challenges older adults with multimorbidity face in navigating healthcare in Singapore.

Methods: Twenty older adults with multimorbidity from a public primary care setting were purposively sampled. Interviews conducted inquired into their experiences of navigating the healthcare system with multiple conditions. Inductive thematic analysis was performed by independent coders who resolved differences through discussion.

Results: Older adults with multimorbidity form a population with specific characteristics and challenges. Their ability to navigate the healthcare system well was influenced by these themes including patient-related factors (autonomy and physical mobility, literacy and technological literacy, social support network), healthcare system-related factors (communication and personal rapport, fragmented system, healthcare staff as advocate) and strategies for navigation (fitting in, asking for help, negotiating to achieve goals, managing the logistics of multimorbidity).

Discussion: Older adults with multimorbidity should not be treated as a homogenous group but can be stratified according to those with less serious or disruptive conditions (less burden of illness and burden of treatment) and those with more severe conditions (more burden of illness and burden of treatment). Among the latter, some became navigational experts while others struggled to obtain the resources needed. The variations of navigational experiences of the healthcare system show the need for further study of the differential needs of older adults with multimorbidity. To be truly patient-centred, healthcare providers should consider factors such as the existence of family support networks, literacy, technological literacy and the age-related challenges older adults face as they interact with the healthcare system, as well as finding ways to improve healthcare systems through personal rapport and strategies for reducing unnecessary burden of treatment for patients with multimorbidity.

Keywords: Multimorbidity; Navigation; Older adults; Qualitative.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Delivery of Health Care*
  • Health Facilities
  • Humans
  • Multimorbidity*
  • Singapore / epidemiology