By Ken Congdon, editor in chief, Health IT Outcomes
There are approximately 78 million Baby Boomers currently living in the United States. This generation — born between 1946 and 1964 — has amassed more than $7 trillion in collective wealth, controls over 80% of the nation's personal financial assets, and accounts for 50% of its discretionary spending power. However, the inevitable is now happening. The Baby Boomers are getting old.
This year, the oldest of the Baby Boomers will turn 65. Implications of this sizable aging population on the U.S. healthcare system have been speculated for years ... and most predictions have been dire. For example, some suggest the rising demands on Medicare will have a crushing impact on the national debt. According to the Congressional Budget Office, spending on both Medicare and Medicaid programs already account for approximately 6% of the GDP (gross domestic product). In the absence of change, this figure is expected to grow exponentially as more and more Baby Boomers become eligible for Medicare. By 2035, for example, spending on Medicare alone is expected to more than double, accounting for 8% of the GDP.
Reasons for the rise in spending are not just due to the sheer number of Baby Boomers that will be on Medicare, but also because of the generation's specific healthcare tendencies. For example, Baby Boomers visit the doctor more and consume more healthcare services — from physical therapy to cosmetic surgery — than their parents did. Furthermore, it is already estimated that 67% of Boomers suffer from one or more chronic diseases, which increases the frequency with which they need to visit the doctor to receive treatment.
The Health IT Connection
So, what does all of this have to do with healthcare IT? Plenty. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), for example, provides incentives for the adoption of meaningful use of EHRs, telehealth systems, and other IT solutions. The idea is that these technology systems will lead to more efficient healthcare delivery that will help reduce overall healthcare spending. These systems should allow clinicians to treat more patients (and they'll need to, given the influx of aging Baby Boomers and newly insured via healthcare reform). The reduced operational costs realized as a result of leveraging these IT systems are also expected to help curb the cost of covering future Medicare expenses.
Furthermore, a recent report released by The MIT Enterprise Forum of the NW (MITEF NW) reveals that Baby Boomers will play a key role in driving the adoption of tech-enabled products for personal use — namely mobile and wireless health monitoring devices. You can download the full report here. According to the report, nearly 56% of Baby Boomers interviewed show a high willingness to use in-home health monitoring devices in tandem with the care of their primary physicians. Boomers view these technologies as a way to foster control and ongoing independence for themselves, especially as the majority of them strive to treat and manage chronic conditions. Mobile and wireless personal health devices can provide a range of patient-centric, cost-reducing, and time-saving health management options for the benefit of consumers as well as caregivers, care providers, taxpayers, and the healthcare industry at large.
According to the report, the fact that most Baby Boomers are technology savvy is a key factor in why adoption of mobile health monitoring devices is likely. The report also predicts a rise in healthcare-focused online social networking communities for similar reasons.
Perhaps the only thing standing in the way of mass adoption of these mobile health monitoring devices among Baby Boomers is the way in which these devices are regulated and reimbursed. Industry standards and regulations have yet to be finalized for mobile monitoring devices and insurance reimbursement policies are still varied — with most plans providing little to no coverage for these technologies. However, some consumers and healthcare providers may be convinced to foot the bill even in the face of these obstacles when faced with the prospect (and costs) of the alternatives (e.g. repeated office visit, home health treatment, assisted living/nursing facilities). Time will tell, but I see the mobile device sector as a huge potential growth market in health IT.
Ken Congdon is Editor In Chief of Health IT Outcomes. He can be reached at email@example.com.