Digitization is a powerful driver and enabler of change. As the health care industry continues to move toward a fee-for-value system of care in which providers focus on improving the experience of care, health of populations and reducing per capita costs, health systems nationwide are seeking and implementing digital technologies that will streamline workflows, increase patient engagement and improve clinical outcomes, particularly among critical populations.
It seems obvious that patients’ health needs advance as they age, but the sheer size of the aging baby boomer cohort is not to be underestimated. In 2029, when all of the boomers will be 65 years and over, more than 20 percent of the total U.S. population will be over the age of 65.
From that perspective, we’ll have double the elderly population that we have today. We are seeing today’s progressive health systems pivot to rethink their approach to serving the aging baby boomer population – and rightly so. This demographic is living longer, battling more chronic conditions and being prescribed more medications than any other generation in modern history. And in the aftermath of the Affordable Care Act, more boomers are being covered through health insurance exchanges, meaning their health care spend and consumption will only continue to grow.
Given these realities, providers and health systems are looking to create digital patient experiences that will help serve this segment of the population in order to meet their financial and clinical objectives. Digital solutions are absolutely necessary, but the key will be in recognizing their best use cases, as well as their limitations. Technology can supplement, but it cannot fully replace the traditional physician-led care model – so what role should it play in the new care ecosystem?
It’s an interesting question when you consider that boomers will be the first group to experience the full impacts of physician shortages. Currently, the average doctor’s office visit is a mere nine to 12 minutes and this number is expected to get smaller; in the years ahead, they will have a harder time getting the traditional care they’re used to, and when they do, they will be dealing with a younger generation of clinicians – millennials.
To meet this demand for care in a way that is scalable, providers will need to leverage technology creatively and judiciously – and that means thinking well beyond electronic health records. Telehealth represents the biggest entry point for providers to manage baby boomer population as the physician shortage looms and care between visits becomes increasingly important.
Patients with chronic conditions will require “health coaches,” be they real people on the clinical support team or digital assistants, to provide ongoing care and consultations between visits. Boomers will also be the first generation to have mobile app-focused condition and medication managers, with digital reminders, symptom logs and tools for managing their health and wellness journey.
The good news is that data indicates boomers are becoming increasingly comfortable with smartphone technology and other digital tools that will inevitably become part of their care experience. Nearly a quarter of seniors over 65 own smartphones, while 59 percent use the Internet regularly – and these numbers are on the rise.
But comfort with the technology is only half the battle. Much more so than the digitally native millennials, boomers require a personal connection and certain degree of trust in their clinicians before they will engage with technology; providers will need to personalize the experience and build trust quickly in order for these tools to work.
Once that personal connection between patients and clinicians has been made, leveraging a digital foundation that includes clinician perspectives will be an important step in convincing patients to take that digital leap of care.