Thanks to cutting-edge breakthroughs in medical technology, Americans now live longer than ever before. In fact, recently the average American’s life expectancy increased to 78.8 years—a new record. However, as the nation’s overall life expectancy continues to rise, our elderly population is also steadily growing as well. As of 2014, there were over46.2 million people aged 65 or older in the U.S. By 2060, that number will jump to 98 million. Currently, people over the age of 65 make up 14.5 percent of the population, but by 2040, that percentage will grow to 21.7 percent.
Over the next few decades, healthcare providers will be faced with the unique challenge of keeping this large segment of the nation’s population—one with its own particular medical needs—healthy and active. However, there are tools available that healthcare providers can use to successfully address this issue. For example, healthcare providers can use mHealth technologies to help cut costs, increase operational efficiencies, boost medical adherence, and even increase patient engagement. Here are a few different ways that providers can use mHealth to improve the health of senior populations.
By 2030, the total number of caregivers in a senior’s “informal network” will drop from eight individuals to four. While seniors will still be able to seek aid or care from hospitals or assisted-living homes, care-related costs will continue to rise, and it will become increasingly difficult to seek aid from family and friends. So, the elderly need an inexpensive and efficient means of in-home care—a device, tool, or service that’s easy to use and will help monitor their medical needs. One answer? Wearable devices. Roughly twenty percent of Americans own and regularly use a wearable device, and the total amount of users in the U.S. is expected to grow in the near future.
Wearable devices are being developed for the elderly and for individuals with chronic illnesses. For example, the Apple Watch features a glucose-monitoring (GCM) app that can assist diabetics with keeping track of their blood sugar. Wearable devices for the elderly can help them in a number of different ways: for example, smart devices, like the Apple Watch, can be used to set reminders about taking medicines, and they can monitor important bio-data, like glucose-levels or heart rate data. Additionally, if something were to happen, an elderly person can use their wearable device to reach out to family members or emergency services for assistance.
As of 2013, only 350,000 patients used telemedicine services. However, according to IHS, by 2018, the total number of patients using telemedicine will hit seven million. The telemedicine market is expected to balloon from $11.6 billion in 2011 to $27.3 billion this year. With telemedicine, a doctor can meet with a patient remotely—using digital tools such as video or texting-based systems—and deliver a diagnosis without actually having to schedule an in-person appointment.
As of 2011, 5.6 percent of elderly in the U.S.—that’s two-million people—were mostly or even completely homebound. According to a U.S. Census survey, 40 percent of all those aged 65 or older in the U.S. have at least one disability—and of those 15.7 million elderly people, two-thirds note that they have a lot of trouble walking or climbing under their own power. For some homebound elderly, in-person appointments outside of their home are nearly impossible to arrange. Add to that the fact that doctors lack the time and resources for in-home visits. Telemedicine solutions represent an attractive and effective alternative for meeting the healthcare needs of elderly patients.
According to the Pew Foundation, 82 percent of seniors who own a mobile phone describe their phone as representing “freedom.” As the baby boomers continue to age and mobile technology continues to advance the total number of mobile-carrying seniors will continue to rise. With that in mind, healthcare providers should consider the power of mobile for keeping in touch with the elderly and their family members. One simple communication channel that many seniors use on a regular basis is text messaging. Deploying a texting program focused on the senior population can meet many needs – from promoting medication adherence to alerting patients of upcoming appointments to healthy eating tips and beyond. Today’s mobile technology gives us more tools than ever to efficiently and effectively engage our patients and there is no bigger population than seniors in America who can benefit from using text messaging to improve the quality of their care.
As the nation’s senior population continues to grow, healthcare providers will have to develop tailor-made strategies to help meet the needs of this sizable population. mHealth technologies can play a significant role, making it much easier to provide care, monitor progress and enhance communication. In short, mHealth can revolutionize the way health providers deliver care to the elderly in the U.S.
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