Catalyst Awardee

Project Description

The Social-Medical Network: Using a Network Approach to Explore the Integration of Informal and Formal Care Networks of Older Adults

Catherine Ann Clair, MHS |  Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; Karin Tobin, PhD | Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Competition Sponsor: U.S. National Academy of Medicine
Awardee Year: 2022


Older adults have two care networks, their informal network and their formal network. The informal network consists of family, friends, and neighbors who provide support and care for the older adult. The formal network includes health care professionals involved in the older adult’s health care, ranging from primary care providers to specialists (e.g., cardiologist) to direct care workers (e.g., home health aide). The proposed hypothesis is that these two networks (i.e., informal and formal) do not operate within silos and instead form a larger network: The social-medical network. The quality of the social-medical network is dependent on the quality of the individual subnetworks and the integration across the two subnetworks. Subsequently, an older adult’s healthy longevity is dependent on the quality of their social-medical network. If one or both subnetworks is weak and/or the integration across the subnetworks is lacking, the health of an older adult may suffer. The social-medical network can be explored for infinite health outcomes: acute service utilization, medication adherence, biomarkers, and more. The primary objective of this proposal is to measure the social-medical network, examine its relationship to acute service utilization, and explore mechanisms of action within the network to improve its quality and strength. The resulting benefit is not just limited to the improving the human healthspan for an individual but has implications for improving lives of informal caregivers, lowering health care costs, and strengthening care communities.

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