In an article by Bettsee Gotwald, she identified health care trends impacting the baby boomer generation.
The size of the ageing baby boomer generation is impacting many aspects of Australian society, not the least of which is the effect on our healthcare system. Approximately 5 million people make up this population of Australians born between 1947 and 1964, following the end of World War II. And they are all approaching senior citizenship, if not already there. Roughly 622 Australians turn 65 every day. The oldest baby boomers turned 65 in 2012, and the Australian Bureau of Statistics notes that the youngest will reach that age in 2029 — just 14 years away.
Our healthcare system will be challenged by this aging population that is living longer but with higher rates of chronic illness. Understanding the needs, wants, and desires of baby boomers can set the stage for stronger customer relationships in the health sector with better health outcomes.
Baby Boomers have an understanding of quality and service and they are prepared to spend the money to get it.
With that in mind, here are five trends the Gotwald has identified for driving the health of the ageing baby boomer generation along with what they expect from their healthcare team.
1. More Chronic Illness Despite Wellness Focus
The trend in baby boomers' health is an interesting irony. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) reveals that while the mortality rate among our baby boomers declined in comparison to the same age group 10 years ago, the number of chronic conditions among them — including diabetes, obesity, and hypertension — has increased. Baby boomer patients with chronic conditions use healthcare to a greater degree, including doctor visits, tests, prescriptions, procedures, and surgeries.
On the other hand, baby boomers are paying more attention to food choices than previous generations. They are reading food labels and know more about the origins of their food products. More Australians, including boomers, are buying organic foods. Aus. Food News reports that organic industry is now valued at over A$1.72 billion, representing a 15.4% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) since 2009. The organic certifying group, Australian Organic, said in their recent report that the growth demonstrated that consumption of certified organic food, cosmetics and household products was at a "record high" in Australia. Baby Boomers are concerned about food quality, the use of additives and insecticides, and the impact on the environment. These healthier choices don't always lead to healthier seniors. When moderation is not observed, it can still result in higher rates of obesity and obesity-related health conditions.
2. Drug Abuse on the Rise
Drug abuse is another health challenge affecting more aging baby boomers than the generations before or after them. According to the AIHW, people aged 50 and over generally have the lowest rates of illicit drug use; however, in recent years this age group has shown the largest rise in illicit use of drugs and were the only age groups to show a statistically significant increase in use in (from 8.8% to 11.1% for those aged 50–59 and from 5.2% to 6.4% for those aged 60 or older).
In Australia drug abuse has been rife, this past cultural exposure puts baby boomers at greater risk for drug abuse later in life. The AIHW says that 21% of those over 60 have taken illicit drugs and more baby boomers are dying each year from accidental drug overdoses. Australians aged 55 years and over account for 11% of all accidental opioid deaths and account for 26% of intentional overdose deaths. Based on these numbers, a whopping 300,000 Australians over the age of 50 will need substance abuse treatment in the coming years.
Increased obesity, chronic illness, and drug use among the baby boomer population do not seem to paint a pretty picture for their future. However, the next few trends open a window to better relationships with your aging patients that can help reverse a backslide in their health.
3. Growing Interest in Technology: Health Apps, Tracking Solutions
Technology offers a whole new frontier for patient engagement and health management — and baby boomers are not afraid to use it. While some might assume seniors are technologically challenged, data indicates increasing comfort with new technology among this population. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) reports that 71% of Australians aged 65 and older own a mobile phone and that 22 percent own a smartphone. Among the 52 percent of seniors who use the Internet, 71 percent go online every day. According to the ACMA those aged 65 years and over the most common activities online were the same as for all internet users: banking (50%); and social networking (43%). The use of mobile technology and other digital tools gives access to health information and health management tools. The ACMA says that 39 percent of baby boomers have downloaded at least one mobile health app to their phones.
Technology offers a whole new frontier for patient engagement and health management, and baby boomers are at the forefront. Technology is an opportunity to better manage care, as well as an opportunity for consumers to better manage their health. Baby boomers are initiating their own management and health education online and on their phones. Consider these technologies:
- Telehealth technologies are still evolving, but they offer an entry point for GPs to manage their patients' health more efficiently.
- Technologies that act as digital health assistants may be useful to both patient and physician. Self-reporting is a conundrum of patient wellness, because patients often don't follow through. However, when a motivated patient is looking for the diagnosis of a perplexing condition, a digital health assistant can arm a physician with much-needed data. Technology makes it easier for a senior with a smartphone to capture a wealth of information about symptoms, biometrics, and a whole host of lifestyle variables.
- A medication management system may be a critical tool for the aging baby boomer population. Poor medication adherence can lead to a number of negative outcomes for patients, including more doctor and emergency room visits and hospitalisations. The high number of baby boomers living with chronic illnesses, are managing an increasing number of medications, and they probably don't want to rely on someone else to keep them on track. A medication dispensing service can be a less intrusive way to help take the appropriate medications at the prescribed times.
4. Emphasis on Independence
Most baby boomers envision growing old gracefully, remaining independent, and ageing at home. They expect their health professionals and their families to support them in this decision. If they are currently healthy, they want to stay that way, and they see the benefit of making good lifestyle choices. As noted above, baby boomers are more conscientious about their food choices and are interested in proper nutrition. Tech-savvy baby boomer patients have a wealth of information, accurate or otherwise, at their fingertips putting pressure on health professionals working with them.
Baby boomers value options that give them a high level of choice and that do not require them to move closer to family to receive their care. For many baby boomers the decision to stay in their homes is their number 1 choice. Home care will be their priority when the need arises. They will have no problem engaging others to help maintain their health and independence while their parents were much more cost conscious and self-reliant. Telehealth technologies and medical alert systems help provide the necessary monitoring to help baby boomers remain independent in their own homes.
5. Actively Involved in Their Healthcare
As indicated by these trends, the aging baby boomer generation desires a collaborative approach with their medical teams. The upshot of it all is – the aging baby boomer generation is assertive, demanding, health-conscious, and engaged in their care.
These traits pave the way for high levels of medical compliance — provided they believe they've been part of the decision-making process. Strategies of shared decision-making build trust. When baby boomers feel as though they are involved in their care and the decisions surrounding it, they become more empowered and therefore more motivated to make healthy choices.
The health system and all those in it, need to realise that the baby boomers mean business. Systems and attitudes need to change – is your health care business ready for the incoming tide?
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