A program to equip doctors and other healthcare workers with necessary tools to provide better care and to improve communicating with geriatric patients has received nearly $4 million in federal funding. The grant is earmarked for the Indiana Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program, which is run through the Indianapolis-based Regenstrief Institute.

This new grant brings total funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to more than $7 million for the program, known as GWEP.

Regenstrief research scientist Debra Litzelman heads up the initiative. Litzelman says geriatric patients, those over age 65, often have complex medical cases that cannot be properly addressed in a 15-minute office visit with a primary care physician. The practicing internist and researcher says another problem is the shortage of physicians specializing in geriatrics.

“We want to train primary care physicians, residents, medical students, nurses, social workers and other health care providers to do a better job of caring for this vulnerable population as we work with patients, families and caregivers to educate them about dementia and other challenges they may face,” said Litzelman.

Litzelman says caregivers or family members may notice issues with the aging patient and want to talk to somebody about challenges in the home setting.

“And all this takes time to be able to sort through in a busy clinic setting where often the visits are limited by very busy schedules by the providers.”

Litzelman says the goal of this next phase of research, GWEP 2.0, is to provide easy and quick screening tools that can be built into an electronic medical record system complemented by efficient workflow patterns between all members of the healthcare team.

” There’s a whole body of evidence around geriatric syndromes that needs to be taught in nursing school, medical school, social work, school, that is very content specific,” explains Litzelman. “Add to that communication skills, add to that respectful working relationships among inter-professional teams about how we complement one another in the service of our patients and their caregivers.”

Litzelman and colleagues from Regenstrief and the Indiana University schools of medicine, nursing and social work will work with clinicians, patients and caregivers at 17 Eskenazi Health and HealthNet community health centers in central Indiana.