In 2011, 42.1 percent (approximately 9 million) of all US Veterans were over 65 years old. An
increasing number of these older Veterans are receiving health care from the Veterans Healthcare
Administration (VHA). Projections are that 43 percent of all Veterans over 65 will enroll in VHA
in 2013, up from 31 percent in 2003; 20 percent of Veterans over 85 received care in VHA in
2003, and this is expected to rise to 51 percent by 2013.
As Veterans age, their health care needs are likely to change and increase, resulting from the
development of chronic illness and age-related disability. Geriatric syndromes, such as falls and
incontinence, can contribute to acute or serious problems such as fractures and pressure ulcers.
Cognitive impairments, regardless of the cause, make managing both daily life and chronic conditions
such as diabetes challenging. Additionally, older Veterans are more likely to take multiple medications
and receive health care from several clinicians. This increases the chances for adverse drug events,
miscommunication, and fragmented care that can ultimately result in negative consequences for older
Veterans. Multifaceted and multidisciplinary models of care for older people have been developed,
such as Comprehensive Geriatric Assessment (CGA) and Geriatric Evaluation and Management
(GEM). The common elements of these models are assessment and follow-up with a focus on
maximizing function and quality of life while avoiding negative outcomes to the extent possible.
Addressing the needs of older Veterans requires a combination of different models of care and
the involvement of health care providers with expertise in caring for older people. Geriatricians
are physicians with additional training and certification in the care of the multiple and often
complex health concerns of older adults. Geriatricians can play different roles in care teams; and
in these care models, their roles may range from leader of a team, to occasional consultant, to
clinician with primary responsibility for care.
This evidence brief summarizes the existing research available on the impact of geriatricians,
acting in various roles, on selected patient outcomes in hospital and outpatient care.