Is healthcare IT ready for Baby Boomers coming of age?

New research indicates there's lots of work to be done as Boomers turn 60 and older
By Bernie Monegain
10:21 AM
Elderly people

People over the age of 60 are likely to be driving the healthcare market around the world in less than five years, according to global research firm Frost & Sullivan.

By 2020, Frost & Sullivan estimates 22 percent of the world's population will be age 60 or older. In order to encourage independent living, IT service providers need to support the development of smart homes and communities that leverage technology-based solutions for the aged, researchers conclude.

The report identifies three anticipated market trends that could help aging people participate in their healthcare:

  1. High adoption of remote monitoring devices, which are useful for personal physicians, nurses and family, will help all senior citizens who prefer to stay in their own homes.
  2. Information and communication technology-based assistive technologies, including computer-based or other electronic communication aids, object locators and reminder systems, will also gain traction.
  3. Employing robots as a support system will emerge as an excellent aged care model.

[See also: Understanding health IT's role in caring for Boomers.]

The aged population's requirement for specialized medical technology will create strong long-term opportunities for wireless network, IT service and software solution providers, researchers point out, so, service providers are making concerted efforts today.

"Wearable devices are increasingly becoming an integral part of senior citizens' lifestyle," said Frost & Sullivan Information & Communication Technologies Senior Research Analyst Shuba Ramkumar, in a news release. "While it is true that a wearable device or global positioning system tracker does not in itself provide better care, it can facilitate remote monitoring of senior citizens and help prevent major accidents. For example, it can prevent a patient with memory loss or dementia from going outside and endangering themselves."

However, seamless connectivity, irrespective of whether it is low/high bandwidth or short/long range, is important for the accurate functioning of the aged care ecosystem, Ramkumar added. Even the smooth operation and integration of assisted living technologies in the healthcare sector is dependent on the resolution of connectivity, data privacy and regulation issues.

Today, the need to certify some community and technology devices for deployment and restrictions on the use of data collected by devices prove to be major obstacles for the end-user market, according to the report. Nevertheless, development of stringent data security regulations and partnership with healthcare technology companies can help overcome some of these challenges.

"IT service providers must collaborate with large private and public aged care providers to design and deploy solutions that integrate with the healthcare system," said Ramkumar. "For residential care communities, they should also provide end-to-end Internet of Things platforms to enable communication between smart devices for monitoring patient activity. These solutions are necessary to integrate home/residential care systems with the central healthcare system to facilitate automated healthcare delivery."

The Frost & Sullivan report supports the same concepts Eric Dishman, director of health innovation and policy at Intel, has been talking about and advocating for years.

As he sees it, the graying of the Baby Boomers offers and requires new ways of delivering care, and at the same time it presents new market opportunities.

Back in 2004, when Dishman testified before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, he noted the world was graying rapidly, and healthcare was yet to come up with healthcare innovations needed to care for seniors, and particularly to care for them "in place" – in their homes.

He called on senators to use their imaginations.

"Imagine a pair of socks that can detect swelling in an older person's feet and relay the change to a caregiver. Picture a "smart" cat that can calm an agitated Alzheimer's patient by purring at their bedside. Envision tracking devices for the soles of shoes that can monitor an older person's gait for irregularities, and ultimately prevent a crippling fall. These are just a few of the innovations that promise to transform the aging services field -- from an overburdened safety net to a highly efficient preventative system."

[See also: Senate panel gets earful on data access.]