The Role of Health Informatics and Technology in Improving Older Adults’ Health

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The number of Americans ages 65 and older is expected to reach 65 million by 2060 – an astounding increase from 52 million in 2018. This increase is already placing strains on the U.S. health organizations to take innovative approaches to provide geriatric care. Numerous platforms and devices, such as Care. Coach and FreeStyle Libre, provide remote patient monitoring and remote companionship for older adults, helping lower the costs of care without sacrificing quality.

To learn more, check out the infographic below created by the University of Illinois at Chicago Health Informatics and Health Information Management program

How health informatics can ease the projected burden of increased geriatric care.

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<p style="clear:both;margin-bottom:20px;"><a href="https://healthinformatics.uic.edu/blog/health-informatics-improving-older-adults-health/" rel="noreferrer" target="_blank"><img src="https://s3.amazonaws.com/utep-uploads/wp-content/uploads/UIC/2020/08/02153003/The-Role-of-health-Informatics-and-Technology-in-Improving-Older-Adults%E2%80%99-Health-080620-final-v2.png" alt="How health informatics can ease the projected burden of increased geriatric care." style="max-width:100%;" /></a></p><p style="clear:both;margin-bottom:20px;"><a href="https://healthinformatics.uic.edu" rel="noreferrer" target="_blank">University of Illinois at Chicago </a></p>

A Picture of Older Adult Health in the U.S.

The older adult population in the U.S. is growing rapidly and posing specific challenges to the healthcare community.

Aging – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow – in the U.S.

Education levels among older adults have dramatically increased since the mid-1960s, while the poverty rate among older adults has simultaneously decreased substantially overall. Additionally, the older adult population is projected to become more diverse. More adults ages 65 and older are projected to delay retirement by 2026 compared to 2018.

Challenges in Older Adult Health

While the concept of aging may not be what it quite was, there are still some noteworthy concerns among the older demographic. Large percentages of older adults living with chronic conditions and obesity are current concerns, and there is a dramatic uptick in Alzheimer’s Disease projected by 2050. There are also several financial concerns, such as higher economic disparities among older minorities and projected expenditure increases for Social Security, Medicare, and home healthcare. Additionally, the number of Americans needing assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) is projected to jump from 12 million to 27 million between 2016 and 2050.

3 Healthcare Challenges for Geriatric Care

There are three specific challenges the healthcare industry is facing in meeting the needs of geriatric patients: inadequate healthcare coverage for long-term care, a lack of home health aides and a shortage of geriatricians.

Inadequate Healthcare Coverage

An estimated 47% of men and 58% of women ages 65 and older will need long-term care in the future. Unfortunately, private health plans and Medicare don’t cover extended long-term care for most older adults. While Medicaid is the default payer for 61% of nursing home residents in the U.S., individuals must meet low-income requirements to receive Medicaid benefits. As a result, adult children spend $7,000 to $14,000 every year to care for parents who don’t qualify for long-term healthcare. Furthermore, the estimated range of unpaid caregivers in the U.S. is 29 million to 52 million.

Lack of Home Health Aides

The employment of home health aides is projected to increase by 41% between 2016 and 2026, adding 7.8 million job openings, leading healthcare industry professionals are worried that demand will outpace supply. There are several reasons why demand is outpacing supply, including jobs that offer a low median pay without benefits, increased competition for low-paid workers in reaction to rising minimum wage rates, and high turnover rates.

Shortage of Geriatricians

For the 2018 appointment year, only 35 of 139 geriatric fellowship programs and only 175 of the 387 residency positions offered by the fellowships were filled.  This is concerning due to projected need. In 2018, there were an estimated 7,300 certified geriatricians; by 2030, 30,000 geriatricians will be needed to meet demand. Geriatrics is failing to attract students for several reasons, including the specialty not being competitive while being low paying. The latter reason is an issue for students with medical school debt, who typically pursue higher-paying healthcare jobs to help pay debts more efficiently.

Cutting Costs with Health Informatics

Startup health tech companies and established medical device makers have developed gadgets and software to alleviate some of the pressure faced by the geriatric healthcare community.

There are several tech gadgets and software providing companionship, protection, and information. For instance, Care. Coach is a software that allows patients to communicate with an avatar managed by a trained health professional. Confirm RX is an insertable cardiac monitor that integrates with the myMerlin smartphone app to monitor heart rhythm. A third device, Freestyle Libre, is a continuous glucose monitoring system that includes a 14-day water sensor and integrates with the LibreLink app to view collected data.

The Role of Health Informatics Professionals

When considering which medical device a healthcare organization should adopt, health informatics professionals should take into account specific criteria before they commit. Specifically, they should consider the device’s ease of use, its cybersecurity concerns, the overall benefits of its usage, and its long-term return on investment.

Preparing for Healthcare’s Future

The industry-wide challenges of geriatric care should be viewed as opportunities for qualified health informatics professionals to develop tech-driven solutions. By marrying technology with data and automation, new and advanced devices can be developed to support geriatric healthcare professionals and improve older adults’ health.

Sources

Abbott, Confirm RX Insertable Cardiac Monitor

Abbott, FreeStyle Libre

Care.Coach, Home

CNBC, “America’s $103 Billion Home Healthcare System Is in Crisis as Worker Shortage Worsens”

Health Affairs, “Embracing the Role of Family Caregivers in the U.S. Health System”

Machine Design, “4 Things Hospitals Look for When Adopting New Medical Devices”

Modern Healthcare, “Geriatrics Still Failing to Attract New Doctors”

Population Reference Bureau, Fact Sheet: Aging in the United States

Time, “Dignity, Death and America’s Crisis in Elder Care”