Saturday, May 24, 2008

Aging Gracefully at Home...Technology Can Help!

by Harry Wang, Research Analyst, Parks Associates

The aging population is now a global concern. Even in developing countries like China and India, dramatic improvements in living standards and advances in medical technology have led to a growing senior population. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), by 2030, more than 973 million people worldwide will be 65 and older, up from 420 million in 2000. The percentage of population 65 years and older will rise from 15.5% to 24.3% in Europe, 12.6% to 20.3% in the U.S., and 6% to 12% in Asia during the same period. An aging population is usually accompanied by rising incidence of chronic diseases and soaring demand for healthcare resources, putting extra pressure on many nations’ already overburdened healthcare systems.

Healthcare reform is underway in many countries in order to cope with these challenges. Most emphasize prevention over intervention as a means to delay the onset of chronic conditions. But an indispensable component of any healthcare reform should include the reconsideration of resource allocation for different types of population subsets. For years, the industry has focused healthcare on institutions: doctor’s offices, hospitals, or outpatient surgical centers. With the coming of preventive care, a new place becomes qualified: a patient’s home. Many studies have shown that home care not only saves money but also gives patients a sense of security and comfort.

Patients’ homes have been quickly modernized these days, thanks to new-generation technologies that provide fast and secure communication and diagnostic tools and reliable access to a wealth of information. Home care is based on the premise that patients can use these tools to access a variety of healthcare resources without leaving the house. With these new technologies, patients can communicate with doctors through e-mail or live video conferencing, and they can self-monitor vital signs and let physicians access these data remotely to make diagnosis and provide treatment advice. For frail seniors, medical and motion sensors can be set up in the home to inform caregivers of daily living and health conditions. This technology-laden home care system, if widely deployed, could relieve the resource crunch on many hospitals and medical centers and allow these institutions to focus instead on patients with acute needs or in severe conditions. Home care will complement institutional care without jeopardizing the quality of care that the patients receive and optimize resource utilization for the entire healthcare system.

This transition will run its course over many years. For one thing, systematic shifts require behavioral changes from all parties involved. In our healthcare system, from doctors to patients, it will take a long time to assimilate new behaviors. Technology can expedite this process but can’t transform it overnight. At the same time, awareness and acceptance are predicated on fast dissemination of scientific evidence of clinical efficacy and financial savings, a task made easy through the Internet.

Parks Associates projects that by 2012 in the U.S., 16 million senior citizens and 17 million baby boomers could benefit from technology-assisted home care services offered through big companies such as Philips and Boston Scientific as well as start-ups like Dovetail Health and VitelCare. Even broadband service providers can leverage their customer reach to offer home health services on top of their existing entertainment and home security service tiers. The market is wide open and calls for innovative solutions and smart marketing to help our aging population live wholesomely at home.

This article was published for the 2008 CONNECTIONS™ Conference Industry Insights, the official publication of CONNECTIONS™.

No comments: