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Five Ways the Aging Population is Impacting Healthcare in the United States

There are a record 50 million seniors (65-years and older) and counting living in the U.S. — and this number is projected to reach 70 million by 2030. Medicare patients are the largest customer base for the country’s hospitals and health systems, and many technology companies are turning their attention to this generation and the caregivers who support them. With more older adults than ever before, it’s important to understand the impact they will have on the healthcare system and identify what can be done to support their needs.

POLITICO gathered a group of government and industry executives to discuss the impact of the aging population on U.S. healthcare. Below are our team’s top five takeaways from the event and what they mean for the future of healthcare.

1. Improving eldercare is key to ensuring high value care at a reasonable cost.

Thanks to advances in medicine, more people are living longer. But many have complex healthcare needs. According to Diane Meier, director of the Center to Advance Palliative Care, and Joanne Kenen, executive editor for health at POLITICO, the majority of the most expensive patients require constant care for an extended period of time. Meier said that this is where palliative care teams can provide an extra layer of support and help prevent repeated—and expensive—emergency room visits and hospital admissions. Technology, such as wearables and remote monitoring, can support caregivers and help older adults keep their independence. Unfortunately, lack of reimbursement is slowing widespread adoption of these tools.

2. Patient desires are often overlooked.

Elders are often ignored when decisions are being made about their care. For example, family members and doctors may push them to move into a nursing home or assisted living facility. Reality is, many wish to remain in their homes, using services such as ridesharing and meal delivery that would allow them to stay independent. In order to help patients live happier, healthier and longer lives, we must consider their wants and desires and orient care plans to match.

3. Eldercare is a huge burden on families.

According to Michael Fratkin, president and founder at ResolutionCare, research shows that elders have lower healthcare costs and spend fewer nights in a nursing home if they have children. But it’s worth noting that not all elders have a family member who can care for them. These individuals often rely on inpatient care, which ultimately drives up the cost of care, according to Gary Cook, president and CEO at Direction Home Akron Canton Area Agency on Aging & Disabilities.

For those who do have a willing and able family member to serve as their caregiver, the physical, emotional, and financial implications should not be overlooked. Caregivers often manage complex medical tasks typically handled by nurses, such as IV administration and injections. And the cost of caregiving is steep. Caregivers lose on average a quarter million dollars in wages due to the demands of caregiving. To allow more elders to live independently at home, we need to provide better training and support for caregivers.

4. Medical education must change.

Even though policy is moving towards value-based care that rewards healthcare organizations for providing quality care over quantity of care, the country’s medical schools are slow to transition, according to Meier. It’s no longer enough to solely train doctors to treat inpatient needs; rather, medical schools must prepare clinicians to “treat” patients both inside and outside the clinical setting, supporting them with the tools and resources necessary to be successful. If education doesn’t change, doctors will be ill-equipped to treat the aging population.

5. Industry silos cause problems.

From a technology standpoint, a lack of interoperability means that doctors treating the same patient can struggle to communicate and collaborate, which can lead to over-treatment or prescribing medications that negatively interact with each other. But silos don’t just occur on the technology side. They’re also created when care teams—comprised of medical professionals, family members, caregivers, and the patient—fail to communicate effectively. This isn’t because of a lack of concern or desire, rather the tools and resources aren’t always in place to facilitate seamless communication.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

The conversation around aging in the U.S. must change—both in Washington and among industry stakeholders. This will require players in the ecosystem proactively working together to solve interoperability challenges, committing to value-based care and accommodating and supporting caregivers and patients alike. Supporting partnerships between hospitals and community organizations that provide more support for caregivers and reimbursing patients for tools outside of the healthcare ecosystem will be critical. By working together, the healthcare system can support aging gracefully and living happier, healthier lives.

Speaking of which, our friends at HLTH have launched a new conference with the goal of bringing industry players together to discuss how industry verticals can work together to solve complex challenges in healthcare—including addressing the aging population. Check out their website to learn more and read their latest blog on the aging U.S. population.

November 14, 2017
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