Companionship care can play a key role in improving the lives of seniors and addressing a number of challenges seen across health care, new studies suggest.
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 mostly connects college students — or “Papa Pals” — and older adults. Papa Pals provide seniors companionship and general assistance – mostly in the home – as well as transportation and similar task-based help.
Currently, Papa works with about 100 health plans and employers.
One of the studies, a claims analysis by an actuarial firm using data from insurance plan SummaCare, found that the 1,420 Medicare Advantage (MA) plan members who are engaged in Papa companion services saw a notable decrease in emergency department (ED) utilization and hospital readmissions.
In fact, when compared to SummaCare members who did not use the services, Papa members had 34% fewer ED high-utilizers and saw an 11% decrease in readmission rate after enrollment in Papa.
“Without having social support to help with more of those tangible things, like picking up healthy foods, picking up medications, or even just the less tangible of providing companionship and having someone to talk to, it puts someone at risk for being readmitted,” Kelsey McNamara, director of research at Papa, told Home Health Care News. “It’s the same thing with regular overuse of the emergency department. Without someone helping you navigate all the complexities of the health care system, it really leads people to have a more crisis-driven way of seeking care at the ED.”
Another study looked at Papa members, aged 65 and older, across health plan partners and found that companionship services lowered the level of loneliness among program participants. This means 60% of “severely lonely” individuals who participated in their health plan’s Papa program saw notable improvement.
Additionally, this 60% reported that their mentally unhealthy days decreased by more than six days, and physically unhealthy days decreased by two days.
“There’s a lot of research that shows that feeling lonely or being socially isolated increases the risk for premature death, and it increases risk for a number of other chronic conditions,” McNamara said. “If you can alleviate the burden of loneliness or social isolation that someone is experiencing, then you can reduce these health risks.”
This resulted in roughly $1,728 in savings annually for mentally unhealthy days alone.
“Addressing social drivers of health, including loneliness and social isolation, can have a profound impact on outcomes, cost and quality of life,” Ellen Rudy, vice president of health and social impact at Papa, said in a press statement.
A third study found that companionship care helps to address health disparities among lower-income individuals.
Specifically, MA and Dual Eligible Special Needs Plans (D-SNP) members experienced severe loneliness at a rate 50% higher than the MA population on average. Their physically unhealthy days were also 18% higher by comparison.
The study found that the D-SNP population had a 10% higher Papa activation rate.
“Lower income individuals face a lot of different complex social needs and health challenges,” McNamara said. “Traditionally, they’re really hard to reach. They’re even harder to engage oftentimes. However, our results suggest that these lower income populations are actually very receptive to companion care programs like Papa, and they had a higher activation rate than traditional Medicare Advantage members. This really confirms the higher needs that they’re experiencing.”