Shelter-in-place orders during the COVID-19 pandemic created unmet health-related and access-related needs among older adults. We sought to understand the prevalence of these needs among community-dwelling older adults.
We performed a retrospective chart review of pandemic-related outreach calls to older adults between March and July 2020 at four urban, primary care clinics: a home-based practice, a safety net adult medicine clinic, an Academic geriatrics practice, and a safety net clinic for adults living with HIV. Participants included those 60 or older at three sites, and those 65 or older with a chronic health condition at the fourth. We describe unmet health-related needs (the need for medication refills, medical supplies, or food) and access-related needs (ability to perform a telehealth visit, need for a call back from the primary care provider). We performed bivariate and multivariate analyses to examine the association between unmet needs and demographics, medical conditions, and healthcare utilization.
Sixty-two percent of people had at least one unmet need. Twenty-six percent had at least one unmet health-related need; 14.0% needed medication refills, 12.5% needed medical supplies, and 3.0% had food insecurity. Among access-related needs, 33% were not ready for video visits, and 36.4% asked for a return call from their provider. Prevalence of any unmet health-related need was the highest among Asian versus White (36.4% vs. 19.1%) and in the highest versus lowest poverty zip codes (30.8% vs. 18.2%). Those with diabetes and COPD had higher unmet health-related needs than those without, and there was no change in healthcare utilization.
During COVID, we found that disruptions in access to services created unmet needs among older adults, particularly for those who self-identified as Asian. We must foreground the needs of this older population group in the response to future public health crises.
COVID-19; equity; geriatrics; shelter-in-place; unmet health needs.