President's Column

Editor's note: For her last three president's columns, Dr. Brehm has invited the chairs of her Presidential Task Forces to summarize the Task Forces' work. In this column, co-chairs Toni Antonucci, PhD, and Antonette Zeiss, PhD, discuss the Task Force on Integrated Healthcare for an Aging Population.

The APA Presidential Task Force on Integrated Healthcare for an Aging Population (IHAP), convened by APA President Sharon Stephens Brehm, PhD, represents an exciting moment in APA's commitment to older adults, to psychologists interested in aging generally, as well as to professional geropsychology. The task force is charged with developing recommendations for how psychologists can work with other health-care professionals to ensure appropriate and effective health care for older adults.

The Baby Boom generation, now entering their 60s, expects effective health care, and has a great political impact. Combining these realities with an understanding of the need for integrative health care for older adults offers a significant opportunity and challenge to psychologists. The work of this task force is to shape APA's understanding of this issue and of the crucial role that psychology can play in helping to meet this need.

In addition to ourselves, the task force members are Gregory Hinrichsen, PhD, of Long Island Jewish Health System; Deborah King, PhD, of the University of Rochester Medical Center; Peter Lichtenberg, PhD, of Wayne State University; Martita Lopez, PhD, of the University of Texas at Austin; and Jennifer Manly, PhD, of Columbia University. Deborah DiGilio, director of the APA Office on Aging in the Public Interest Directorate, is the staff lead for this project.

Efficient care for older patients

Our primary product will be a report, Blueprint for Change: Achieving Integrated Health Care for an Aging Population, which will inform psychologists how to create integrated teams for the care of older persons. It will include principles and models of integrated care and examples of efficient health-care systems. Given the constraints of a one-year task force, we decided to speak primarily to psychologists. We also hope to have a broader impact, and efforts to speak to consumers and other professionals have begun. Many of these will reach fruition through the efforts of the Committee on Aging and other APA entities.

Given the breadth of the project and the planned product, we established an advisory panel to secure a broad input. We invited APA's divisions, boards and committees to nominate a representative to the advisory panel. We also invited external organizations to participate on an Interprofessional Advisory Group. Responses were enthusiastic. A diverse advisory group has been established and is active in helping to shape the project.

A model for care

The Blueprint presents a model for the development of interdisciplinary care teams, which is our basis for a more complex exploration of integrated health care of older adults. The task force uses the basic, core model to explore how psychologists can function effectively in integrated care settings that serve older adults. We identify different sites of care, considering the continuum from the healthiest to the neediest older adults, and we discuss how to extend the simple but powerful basic model of integrated care to these sites.

We also identify the skills that psychologists bring to such sites of care, including general psychological skills as well as more specific skills for work with older adults. We discuss some obstacles to effective teamwork, including varying models of care and communication used by different professions. Throughout all discussions, we suggest how psychologists can and should bring sensitivity to the needs of underserved groups and individuals, such as members of cultural minority groups. Finally, we suggest products that can be used to educate other professions and the public about integrated health care for older adults. We describe actions psychologists can take to promote this model of care, which we believe is critical for optimally serving our aging population.

We presented a symposium on our work at APA's 2007 Annual Convention and met with the APA Advisory Panel. They also have provided useful feedback on drafts of the Blueprint. We are now revising our chapters to reflect the suggestions and comments we have received. This has been an exciting project for us, and the response of a wide array of psychologists and other professional organizations has been inspiring.