Future of Geriatrics in Lithuania
Author: Diana Kushenko
Origin/affiliation: Vilnius University faculty of medicine first year geriatric resident - Lithuania
After 6 years of intense medical studies, the student must choose a further career direction that seems most engaging and exciting for him. My choice was geriatric medicine. When friends had found out that my future specialty would be geriatrics, I saw a surprise on their faces followed by the question – who is geriatrician and what does he treats? I had explained geriatrician is a doctor who specializes in treating elderly people. The next friend question was – what is the difference between geriatrician, general practitioner, and internal medicine doctor?
This is a new specialty on the field of medicine, which is not so popular in Lithuania. It is well known that an orthopedist-traumatologist consults for a broken leg issue, and a rheumatologist consults for a long period of joint pain. Older people are not aware that there is a specialty in medicine, such as geriatric, and issues, which geriatrician supposed to solve.
In discussion with medical staff living abroad, the need for consultations for the elderly people is growing, and there is a lack of geriatricians. In Lithuania, this specialty starts to be gradually integrated. As far as I have heard, apart from palliative care, there is practically no separate geriatrics, so the future of this specialty is vague. The public complains that access to family doctor is difficult due to a lack of counseling facilities and family doctor find it difficult to cope with excessive workloads. Furthermore, older adults take more time, often slow thinking, so consultations lasts longer than the defined visit time. The most interesting thing is that most of regular family doctor patients are elderly people who could seek help from a geriatrician, receive a more detailed examination, health assessment and correction of treatment. This would free up several consultations for family doctor at the same time.
The coming year promises major changes for geriatricians in Lithuania: it is planned to establish some geriatric centers, where seniors will be able to receive specialized care. This is most relevant in small cities, as most of the patients are living there. Step by step, the plans of the Minister of Health are being implemented, and the media mentions newly established geriatric departments in the hospitals. Furthermore, a lot of clinics with many elderly patients, commence to provide consultations by geriatrician. In my opinion, seniors would actively consult a geriatrician if it would be possible to register directly, without a referral from a family doctor, for concerns or illnesses.
So, what’s the future of this specialty? I think that this should become a very relevant and demanding specialty in Lithuania, as well as society is aging and comprehensive investigation ant treatment for elderly patients are needed. Will it be highly popular among medical students? I doubt it. So far, students have no specific understanding of the specialty, and students are deterred are deterred from fierce competition by “having to work with old people for a lifetime”.
Nevertheless, the final conclusions regarding the future of geriatrics in Lithuania will be possible to make in 3-4 years, when all the planned geriatric services will be finally implemented and properly functioning.
All in all, geriatric specialty is not so popular in my country, but I think that it will be in high demand and will help many seniors to improve their wellbeing.