New chief of geriatric medicine spearheads initiatives to improve care of older patients

Laurence M. Solberg, M.D., has been appointed chief of the division of geriatric medicine in the UF College of Medicine department of aging and geriatric research. Under his leadership, the division is launching initiatives that will improve the quality of care for older adults and strengthen relationships with physicians and services within the UF Health system and surrounding communities.

“This was an excellent opportunity to be able to build a program with a wonderful infrastructure and support from the institution,” said Solberg. “This is a new step for the division of clinical medicine, to broaden our scope and be able to reach out and help the older patients in the hospital.”

The geriatric consult service is one of Solberg’s new initiatives that tailors care to older adults. With the new service, UF Health physicians can request a consultation for patients who are 65 years old and older. Geriatricians perform an overall assessment of the patient, work with other physicians to determine the best treatment plan and monitor the patient during the entire hospital stay.

A priority of the service is to help medical teams identify and treat geriatric syndromes such as delirium, which is common among older hospitalized patients but often missed or misdiagnosed as dementia. Solberg said that up to 54 percent of elderly hospitalized patients experience delirium, which is characterized by disturbances of cognition, attention or perception.

“To be able to help the team who’s taking care of an older patient understand delirium and help them with the medications and the workup, that’s where we make a difference,” he said.

As part of the service, geriatricians also will evaluate the patient’s medications and help family members understand the patient’s condition and medical needs. They also are available to work with case managers and social workers to plan for continued success when the patient leaves the hospital, and can connect him or her with a geriatrician after being discharged.

Another endeavor is the geriatric education program for residents, wherein the division works with family medicine, internal medicine and the acute care surgery program to bring geriatric-specific education to residents through consults, lectures and blocks of instruction. Solberg also is working to add more geriatric education to the medical student curriculum earlier in their instruction.

“Education is one of our key missions,” said Solberg. “We need to educate everyone, no matter which specialty they end up going into, that the older population is different and therefore needs different care and different thought processes by the doctors taking care of them.”

Similarly, the division is working with nurse educators in the Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders, or NICHE, program at UF. NICHE is a national, nurse-driven program designed to help hospitals improve the care of seniors. Solberg is working with the existing NICHE program at UF to connect these nurses with geriatricians and to bring specialized education to the rest of the hospital’s nursing staff.

Solberg was recruited to UF from Vanderbilt University, where he started the geriatrics consult service and served as its chief for six years. During this time, Solberg was also the medical director of rehabilitation services at Vanderbilt University Hospital and co-director of the Vanderbilt Geriatric Fracture Program. In 2012, he was identified as a core faculty member by the Vanderbilt School of Medicine chair for his dedication to teaching and mentoring residents.

While at Vanderbilt, Solberg received a geriatrics academic career award from the Health Resources and Services Administration. His research focused on nursing recognition of delirium in the hospitalized older patient and the communication between nurses and doctors using computerized tools. Solberg is continuing this research at UF, in addition to pursuing his additional interests, which include online educational and assessment tools for geriatric syndromes and the impact of stress in caregivers of dementia patients.

At UF, he has also been appointed chief of the division of career development and education and named the Ruth Jewett professor of geriatric medicine. Additionally, he has an appointment within the Malcom Randall Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where he is focusing on efforts to avoid readmissions to the hospital in the older veteran population.

Solberg earned his medical degree at Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland, and completed his residency in internal medicine at the Yale-affiliated Hospital of Saint Raphael in 2003. He then underwent a year of subspecialty training in geriatric medicine at the Yale-New Haven Hospital. In 2012, he was inducted as a fellow in the American Geriatrics Society for contributions to the field in clinical, educational and research activities.

“Dr. Solberg brings new energy and competence to our clinical practice leadership,” said Marco Pahor, M.D., director of the UF Institute on Aging and chair of the department of aging and geriatric research. “The inpatient consult service he has initiated will augment the quality and efficiency of the care we provide to our seniors.”