Why baby boomers will drive the health technology of tomorrow

When most people envision the health tech of tomorrow, they imagine shiny new handheld devices and health trackers sported by young, healthy adults in their prime.

The truth is that healthcare innovations are generally driven by the population most in need of care...Baby Boomers. Not only do older Americans consume an outsize proportion of healthcare, but they also have a well funded and effective lobbying infrastructure in support of their needs.

But Boomers are not waiting around for someone to program the clock on their VCR. Defined as those born between 1946 and 1964, they have very different attitudes about aging than their parents did. They want to live active, participatory lives, even as they get older. This segment of the population also has a track record of embracing innovation. They were among the early adopters of devices like personal computers and cellphones that now are commonplace but once were considered groundbreaking.

This then is an engaged, motivated group committed to managing their care in support of a healthier lifestyle through technology. Consider that in 2000, only 14% of adults 65 or older were online. By 2016, that percentage had jumped to 64%. Older Americans like using digital technology for the same reasons that others do: to learn, to keep in touch with others, to simplify tasks. In many ways, our future is in very capable hands as the technology younger Americans come to embrace later in life will already be battle tested.

When it comes to health related technology, indicators say that significant numbers of older Americans already are willing to use wearables and other technology to keep track of their health and fitness. An Accenture survey shows that 17% of Americans 65 and over are using the devices, only slightly behind the 20% of Americans under 65 using them. And those that aren’t doing so already are willing to start using them: 48% of those 65+ vs. 47% under 65.

Much of this interest is driven by the fact that Boomers have different ideas about what aging should look like versus the generation that preceded them. They want to stay active and abhor the idea of ending up in a nursing home; most desire to remain in their own homes as long as possible.

But it turns out that Boomers may be in bigger trouble health-wise than they would like to acknowledge. Americans have seen a rise of obesity over the past few decades, and Boomers are no exception. The attendant risks are likely to be prevalent factors as they age. With lifespans increasing thanks in part to medical interventions, it adds up to a large group of people needing care for years to come.

Butting up against that reality are the expenses of providing that care. With severe strains on traditional sources of funding such as Medicare and Social Security, incentives are strong to minimize visits to clinics and hospitals. Preventative medicine is a given, and remote care instead of in-person visits is even better in terms of cost-containment.

Enter technology. For example, Boomers can use a digital scale daily to transmit their weight to a care team wirelessly once a day rather than visit a clinic in person once a month - saving money and providing more regular oversight. The same is true for a blood pressure check, heart-rate monitor, sleep patters, glucose levels, or fitness related activity.

All of that information can be sent to a central location, entered into the patient’s EMR and retrieved when needed to see if treatment is needed or the patient is doing fine. Patients, too, can see their health status and take precautions before their providers remind them to do so.

These remote monitoring options are all available today, with more fast arriving. And companies are catching on that older Americans are their primary design motivation. Gone are the days when existing devices or solutions simply dropped in slightly bigger buttons and fonts for older customers. At Orb for example, we are explicitly designing for this demographic because we know that Boomers make up an outsize portion of the remote monitoring and care market being serviced by providers today. We also know that many new innovations are targeting this group as first adopters.

The upside for the rest of Americans is that we can rest easy knowing the future of our healthcare lies in the hands of some tech-savvy Boomers.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

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