Companion care can play a key role in improving the lives of older adults and addressing a range of healthcare challenges, new research suggests.
No one understands this more than Papa, a family-on-demand startup. The company commissioned a series of studies that examined the impact of companion care on overall health.
Founded in 2017, Miami-based Papa is a membership-based platform that connects mostly college students — or “Papa Pals” — and seniors. Papa Pals provide seniors with companionship and general assistance—mostly around the home—as well as transportation and similar task-based assistance.
Papa currently works with about 100 health plans and employers.
One of the studies, a claims analysis by an actuarial firm using data from the insurance plan SummaCare, found that 1,420 Medicare Advantage (MA) plan members who participate in Papa’s companion services saw significant reductions in emergency department (ED) use. ) and hospital readmissions.
In fact, compared to SummaCare members who did not use services, Papa members had 34% fewer high-utilization EDs and saw an 11% reduction in readmission rates after enrolling in Papa.
“Without having social support to help with more of those tangible things like getting healthy foods, taking medication, or even just the less tangible like having company and someone to talk to, it puts someone at risk of re-offending.” acceptance,” Kelsey McNamara, director of research at Papa, told Home Health Care News. “The same goes for regular overuse of the emergency department. Without someone helping you navigate all the complexities of the health care system, it really makes people have a more crisis-oriented way of seeking care in the ED.”
Another study looked at Papa members, age 65 and older, in health plan partners and found that companionship services reduced the level of loneliness among program participants. This means that 60% of “severely lonely” people who participated in their health plan’s Papa program saw significant improvement.
Additionally, those 60% reported that their mentally unhealthy days decreased by more than six days, and their physically unhealthy days decreased by two days.
“There is a lot of research that shows that feeling lonely or socially isolated increases the risk of premature death and increases the risk of a number of other chronic diseases,” McNamara said. “If you can alleviate the burden of loneliness or social isolation that someone experiences, then you can reduce those health risks.”
This resulted in an estimated $1,728 in savings per year for mentally unhealthy days alone.
“Addressing the social drivers of health, including loneliness and social isolation, can have a profound impact on outcomes, costs and quality of life,” said Ellen Rudy, vice president of health and social impact at Papa, in a press release.
A third study found that companion care helps address health disparities among people with lower incomes.
Specifically, MA and Dual Eligible Special Needs Plans (D-SNP) members experienced severe loneliness at a 50% higher rate than the average MA population. Their physically unhealthy days were also 18% higher by comparison.
The study found that the D-SNP population had a 10% higher rate of Papa activation.
“Lower-income individuals face many different complex social needs and health challenges,” McNamara said. “Traditionally, they’re really hard to reach. They are even harder to engage often times. However, our results show that these lower-income populations are actually very receptive to companion care programs like Papa and have higher activation rates than traditional Medicare Advantage members. It really validates the higher needs they feel.”