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Ageism among physicians, nurses, and social workers: findings from a qualitative study.

This study investigated ageism among healthcare professionals in various therapeutic settings in Israel. Using a qualitative approach, the current study aimed to examine similarities and differences across healthcare disciplines. Three focus groups were conducted with physicians, nurses, and social workers. Data from each focus group were analyzed separately, and then commonalities and differences across the groups were evaluated. Three main themes relating to older adults emerged from the data. The first theme pertains to perceived difficulties that healthcare professionals experience in working with older adults and their family members; the second focuses on invisibility and discriminatory communication patterns; and the third theme relates to provision of inappropriate care to older adults. Similarities and differences across the three disciplines were found. The differences related mainly to the examples provided for manifestations of ageism in the healthcare system. Provision of inadequate treatment to older adults due to their age appeared to be the most complex theme, and is discussed at length in the Discussion. Briefly, the complexity stems from the fact that although some behaviors can be clearly described as inappropriate and undesirable, other behaviors such as avoidance of invasive medical procedures for older patients raise ethical dilemmas. Potentially, avoidance of invasive medical treatment can be perceived as compassionate care rather than as undertreatment due to ageist perceptions. A related dilemma, i.e., longevity versus quality-of-life, is also discussed in light of the finding that the balance of these two aspects changes as patients grow old.

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