How Generational Differences Are Defining Healthcare – Part 2: Seniors

As with other aspects of society, generational differences present challenges. The healthcare system is already overburdened due to longstanding inefficiencies that make it difficult to effectively meet the healthcare needs of all patients. But, advanced technologies are creating new opportunities for healthcare providers to meet these challenges head on.

Last week, we talked about the impact millennials are having on healthcare delivery and how they are creating an opportunity for connected health to shine beyond its pandemic-driven growth. Their affinity for technology represents an opportunity for healthcare providers to embrace connected health and deliver quality care in a way that meets patient needs.

But, it’s not just younger generations that are defining healthcare delivery. Seniors, too, are having a profound impact on the healthcare community due to demographic change, technology preferences, and growing healthcare needs.

America’s Population is Aging

The over-65 population in America is projected to grow by 45% from 2018-2033 (compared to a projected under-18 growth rate of 4%). Older patients tend to have more healthcare needs than younger patients, including having more regular visits, needing treatment for chronic conditions, and undergoing more testing and more procedures. In fact, 52% of patients 65-74 years old see doctors at least four times per year, a figure that increases to 61% for patients 75 and older. On the other hand, only 28% of 18-44-year-olds see doctors at the same frequency.

Physician Population is Aging

In 2019, nearly half of all active physicians in the U.S. were 55 or older, a figure that has increased consistently over the past decade (43.2% in 2015, 40.3% in 2011, 37.6% in 2007). Not surprisingly, the average age of physicians has increased by almost a full year between 2010 and 2018. That means more doctors are getting closer to retirement, leaving gaps in practices, while patient needs continue to rise, and younger generations aren’t growing at the same rate to fill the gaps.

Aging in Place

A large majority of Americans older than 50 want to stay in their current residences as long as possible. That means that, as they age, their healthcare needs will also be centered around their homes, even as they become less mobile and require more frequent care. Almost a quarter of older people drive rarely or don’t drive at all, which makes getting to frequent healthcare appointments difficult and could increase their rate of missed appointments.

Familiarity with Technology is Increasing

As society becomes increasingly digital, that general trend has also had an impact on older Americans, as the generational technology gap is narrowing. Use of smartphones among those older than 50 has increased to 77%, and nearly all of them use their smartphones on a daily basis. Adoption of tablets, wearables, and digital assistants has also increased in the past two years. In addition, while relatively few older adults currently use newer healthcare technology, the interest level in owning and using them is much higher.

What does this mean? The desire to age in place makes connected health a necessity to ensure patients receive the care they need, and the growing adoption of an interest in technology can bridge the gap between demand and supply.

Remote Patient Monitoring

Remote patient monitoring devices can collect health data from patients and transmit them to providers for ongoing monitoring without requiring office visits to monitor health statistics.  Using RPM solutions, physicians can continue to monitor patients while reducing time and costs for both, and may even allow providers to treat more patients. Regular monitoring through digital technologies can also help more effectively monitor chronic conditions and enable physicians to identify warning signs earlier, reducing risk of complications.

Virtual Visits

Virtual visits can make it easier for physicians to connect with older patients, reducing the need to travel to offices and enabling more frequent but shorter follow-up visits. Virtual visits can also provide greater flexibility for physicians to see patients from remote locations and create a better work-life balance. That, in turn, could reduce burnout and motivate physicians to retire later.

Medication Management

Connected medication devices can help patients more effectively manage their medications.  Digital medication devices – and even simple automated reminders (which can also include manual confirmation by patients), can help increase compliance, reduce overmedication, and combined with remote patient monitoring devices, provide information on treatment effectiveness.

Personal Healthcare Assistants

AI-driven personal assistants can increase patient engagement without requiring additional time from physicians and other staff. For instance, they can conduct regular check-ins that include a series of health-related questions, and then transmit that data to providers and into patient records, where physicians can review them. Advanced artificial intelligence can even identify voice patters or mood swings that could be indicative of warning signs, and alert physicians, who can then engage patients directly.

There’s little doubt the demographic changes in the U.S. population can increase the burden on the healthcare system. But the technology is available to support patients and providers to help ensure patients have access to the care they need when they need it – while enabling older patients to live more comfortably and engage in the activities they enjoy.

To learn more about how connected health can support providers’ need to support both older and younger patients, connect with us here.