We all have a natural inclination to avoid bad news. The problem for us in the healthcare industry is that every time we ask someone to think about screenings for disease and immunizations, it makes people think of bad news. What we know, that many healthcare consumers do not take into account, is that prevention is better than treatment and treatment is most successful when performed early. The question then becomes: how do we encourage and facilitate screenings and immunization clinics, while also overcoming the natural resistance to the thought of bad news?
A very easy approach is to combine these clinics with health fairs, and offer enticing products like instant cholesterol or blood sugar tests, discount coupons to local retailers, caps or pedometers, and coupons for free chair yoga or other elderly fitness programs. A one-stop-shopping experience for health screenings and immunizations may provide value for members to encourage participation.
Smaller specialty screening clinics can focus on women’s health in order to improve women’s engagement and participation in health care screenings. Some basic ideas include osteoporosis screening, mammogram or appointments, information on new guidelines for female exams, cholesterol checks or heart disease information, and immunization updates.
Since the target demographic for these screenings is primarily the elderly, who may experience difficulty getting themselves to a clinic or at a central location, a major issue that arises with a health fair is transportation. Senior centers, however, can be community-wide sources of socialization, meals, and transportation. Working with a local senior center or community recreation center to co-sponsor the health fair or immunization clinic can be a win-win for both organizations. Issues of transportation can also be shared between organizations. Other possible co-sponsors include local physical therapy organizations, or community athletic organizations such as the YMCA. Participating nurses can be on hand to answer questions, interpret results, and refer patients to primary care and specialty providers.
Many screening tools are now sized for portable use, and work well in a health fair setting using privacy curtains or a medi-van. Any screening procedure that can be done without having people remove clothing is much preferred in this setting. While they are in attendance, health fair volunteers could teach people how to access their records and make appointments online.
The elderly have a high incidence of mental health concerns as well as significant social barriers to diagnosis and treatment, making mental health information and screenings a challenge with seniors. One way to bridge the gap might be to include information about self-screenings that can be done at home, or in privacy, and how to access treatment confidentially. Focusing on giving the older generation a new understanding of brain biochemistry, and how it impacts feelings and mood, may help break down barriers to treatment.
Sleep is a significant indicator of a number of both physical and mental health conditions. It is a very unique and individual condition, though, so it needs to be screen in person for truly accurate information. Screenings for sleep problems are always very popular, as is information about resources, but this screening needs a degree of privacy to be done well.
Dieting can also be a difficult topic, but one that is vital for a healthy life. The biggest obstacle towards proper nutrition in later years is the ability to cook oneself a meal. Transportation to a grocery store becomes limited and standing up for long enough to finish cooking a meal is painful. Problems with poor dental care can also impact nutrition. Screening for problems accessing, cooking, and eating food, along with resources available for seniors for transportation, in-home care and assistance, and Meals on Wheels, can be done at these screening clinics.
Combining health screenings with an immunization clinic and a value-added social event such as a health fair may help seniors take advantage of an inclusive medical screening program. By meeting the age-specific needs of the group, organizations may be able to assist and support the health care needs of this vulnerable population.