With people living longer than ever before, Shameem Hameed, CEO of digital health platform blueBriX, assesses the increasing demand for health services among older populations.
DIFFUSING THE AGING TIME BOMB WITH DIGITAL HEALTH
Life expectancy in Western countries has increased over the past several decades and will continue to rise.
Some 17 percent of people living in the US, or more than one in six, were 65 or older in 2020, according to a a report from the Administration on Aging.
That represents 55.7 million people, an increase of 15.2 million people (38 percent) aged 65 and above since 2010, compared with just two percent growth in the under-65 population. It also reflects a consistent increase in the nation’s older population since 1900, when there were 3.1 million Americans aged 65 and older (four percent of the population).
Meanwhile, in the UK, more than one in five people are already over 60 – a number expected to increase from 14.9 million in 2014 to 18.5 million in 2025.
There is also an increase in the number of ‘oldest old’ around the world, with approximately six million people aged 80 or older living in developing countries. This is predicted to rise to around 121 million people by 2030, an increase of 82 percent in just 15 years.
OVERSTRETCHED GOVERNMENT SPENDING
Whilst living longer than ever before is a major achievement of modern science and healthcare, these permanently older populations drastically increase the demand for health services. As a result, health spending across the Western world is at an all-time high.
Chronic disease is also a key cost driver, and the National Council of Ageing (NCOA) reports that patients with multiple chronic diseases make up two-thirds of healthcare costs and a full 93 percent of medical care spending.
According to research by the Nuffield Trust, more than two-fifths of health spending in the UK is devoted to people over 65 – a figure that is only likely to increase with the nation’s ageing demographic.
However, the challenges of improving care for an ageing population are not unique to the West, as developing countries around the world are facing similar pressures on their health services.
According to research, in an emerging economy like Thailand, if life expectancy rises to 80 as forecast by 2055, and consumption taxes – including value-added taxes, duties, and other indirect taxes – are used to balance the budget, healthcare spending as a share of GDP is expected to increase from 5.5 percent to 12 percent.
THE DIGITAL HEALTH REVOLUTION
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the expansion of digital health services became stagnated, including the decreased use of medical apps on smartphones and wearables. However, the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns made consumers re-embrace telehealth. 62 percent of people are now open to using virtual health services, with 57 percent also open to remotely monitoring health conditions using an in-home device.
The response to the pandemic has also seen a massive shift towards telemedicine replacing face-to-face contact, and devices such as e-stethoscopes, connected blood pressure monitors, and connected pulse oximeters are readily available for clinics and surgeries to provide to patients for short-term use at home.
A recent study from Allied Market Research also highlights the growth in demand for patient-centric mobile apps and digital health technology, and predicts the market value will grow to USD$64 billion by 2027.
Clearly, the approach to using digital tools in healthcare provision is undergoing a substantial and rapid shift, but despite these leaps, not enough attention is being given to ageing as a chronic disease, and how technology can be used to transform geriatric care and alleviate mounting pressures.
DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES FOR THE AGEING POPULATION
The use of digital technologies, such as wearables, could offer options to monitor older patients continuously, remotely, and conveniently without affecting their safety or autonomy.
Technology can also be used to provide more accurate and up-to-date health reports, so caregivers can make better decisions about whether to administer medications or treatments. This could be particularly significant for the growing numbers of elderly patients receiving at-home care and support amidst declining numbers of nursing homes – as detailed in a recent report by the Wall Street Journal. For those with more chronic health conditions, wearable devices can effectively track the impact of ongoing treatments, while also generating instantaneous alarms should the patient suffer a stroke, heart attack, or fall.
However, one of the main challenges in driving the widespread implementation of digital technologies for the ageing population is that the majority still like to receive medical attention and/or support in person. To ensure adherence, healthcare providers therefore need to establish ease of adoption and use to quickly showcase the benefits of digital health.
For example, by using technology, healthcare providers can effectively streamline inefficient processes within an elder care setting, reducing the time spent on unnecessary tasks while ensuring elders are receiving the best possible care.
Telemedicine can be especially beneficial for elderly individuals who have mobility issues or live in remote areas, allowing them to receive medical care remotely through video or phone consultations with healthcare providers.
In addition, wearable devices, such as fitness trackers and smartwatches, can help older patients track their health and wellness, and alert caregivers if there are any concerns, therefore ensuring patients feel more actively engaged and involved in their own well-being.
Finally, robotics technology can be used in a variety of applications in elderly care, including assistive robots that can help with tasks such as medication reminders and physical therapy, as well as social robots that can provide companionship and engagement.
These are just some of the ways digital health can be used to ensure the best quality of care for elderly patients and, in turn, reduce the financial burden placed on healthcare facilities by the rapidly ageing population.
LOW AND NO-CODE DIGITAL PLATFORMS
In the wider healthcare setting, organisations are increasingly turning to technology solutions to realise their digital health vision.
Low-code and no-code platforms have proven to be extremely effective in helping improve medical services and clinical outcomes, without the huge financial and resource investment required to develop new technological solutions from scratch.
Using these applications, medical providers can create bespoke solutions for elderly patients, using low amounts of coding (or even no coding at all) which are easy to build, manage, and scale. Drag-and-drop functionalities and pre-built templates can further simplify the process and enable them to build custom applications that allow for clearer communication between patients and physicians, such as intuitive portals that enable patients to remotely update their medical histories in preparation for video check-ups.
Ultimately, in leveraging the power of low-code and no-code digital health platforms, healthcare providers can not only enhance the level of care delivered to ageing populations, but also significantly reduce the cost of delivery in the process.
CHALLENGE OF THE CENTURY
Ageing populations are one of the 21st century’s biggest challenges, and it means there are more people who need medical care than ever before.
National health systems have no choice but to adapt in order to provide adequate and affordable solutions, and digital technology offers a golden opportunity to reimagine how we can support and empower geriatric patients to lead fulfilling and healthy lives.
Innovation, driven by digital technology, is key to relieving the increasing pressures placed on national health systems, social care, and other public services.
By embracing technological advancements, the medical sector can evolve its approach to identifying and managing the long-term conditions associated with ageing, improve the patient experience, and empower the elderly population to live longer and healthier lives.