Many of us think of social connection as something that's nice, but certainly not a must-have for our health. But new research turns those assumptions upside down, showing that for older people, being lonely and socially isolated can have a powerfully negative impact of their health and longevity.
A few days ago, the New York Times summarized several studies showing that elders with social isolation and loneliness experience higher mortality rates and an increased risk of depression, in addition to cognitive decline and other illnesses.From the standpoint of a medical provider, this has important implications for how we look at the care and healing of patients in Long Term Care. If being isolated and cut off from support networks can make patients sicker, perhaps we think twice when it comes to moving a patient, or have them bounce around from doctor to doctor. Perhaps we use medical collaboration tools more frequently so that doctors collaborate on the patient's behalf, while they stay in their social context. Of course, even simple connections -- like a card game or a conversation with an old friend by phone -- seem to make a big difference when it comes to these risks. So, many times, we just need to let our medical care "get out of the way" so simple connections can happen for patients.
The studies also reminded us of the impact of loneliness and social isolation for medical providers themselves. About 50% of doctors end up experiencing symptoms of burnout in their career. Studies like this one show that feeling cut off or detached from patients contributes to a sense of burnout. Unfortunately, so much in our practices contributes to distraction and disconnection -- which ultimately exacerbates burnout as well.
Just as it is important for older Americans to find ways to connect, to maintain their health -- it is important for doctors to find ways to connect to each other and to patients. There is so much that takes our time, as healthcare providers. But, as this research reminds us, connection is crucial to the long-term sustainability of our practices, our patients and, of course, our own health.
It's not always easy or initially obvious, but it is crucial.
Learn more here about how iClickCare can make medical collaboration faster and easier: