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Aging baby boomers driving healthcare IT evolution

April 25, 2014

The aging of the baby boomer population is widely viewed as one of the most significant challenges facing the U.S. healthcare system. As these individuals get older, they will put increasing pressure on the country's ability to provide adequate care, and many industry experts worry that the healthcare industry will struggle to meet this need.

In response, many firms are working to develop new IT services and technological tools that can deliver healthcare more efficiently, effectively and independently. Notably, these solutions emphasize preventative measures and feature in-depth health monitoring that can detect problems before they become serious.

Pressure rising
HIT Consultant recently highlighted this trend. The news source noted that there are approximately 75 million baby boomers in the United States, according to the Census Bureau, and these individuals are eager to embrace technologies that can help them to cope with the health matters that inevitably accompany aging.

"We're on the cusp of rethinking and reinventing healthcare given the financial pressures, the demographic pressures, and the power and lowering price-point of many emerging technologies that are getting smaller, faster, cheaper and smarter—which, especially when combined and layered upon each other, have dramatic potential to positively impact health and biomedicine," explained Dr. Daniel Kraft, faculty chair for medicine and neuroscience at Singularity University, Singularity Hub reported.

New tools
Kraft noted that the most obvious IT response to this situation is the development of health-tracking devices and apps, the news source noted. The wearable technology relays patient data to users' smartphones, where it is then quantified.

As HIT Consultant pointed out, some of these technological advances are actually upgrades to existing solutions. For example, remote monitoring is not a new concept, but smart sensors make such efforts far more precise than ever before. These tools can detect if an individual falls and alert the doctor if a patient does not open a medicine bottle when he or she is supposed to. Furthermore, these monitors can track patients' heart rates, glucose levels, blood pressure and other vital signs, immediately delivering this information to the doctor's office or hospital.

Singularity Hub emphasized that the better that people know their own bodies, the better able they are to make intelligent decisions about their lifestyles and other healthcare-related issues. Kraft called the use of this healthcare data to detect warning signs before they become more serious "predictalytics."

Mobile needs
Importantly, the growing number of aging baby boomers increases the need for mobile solutions for doctors. To effectively treat more patients, healthcare professionals must be able to interact with individuals outside the hospital or doctor's office. As HIT Consultant reported, e-visits can fill this need. Digital exchanges can provide useful guidance for patients more quickly and easily than an in-person consultation, and at a far lower cost.

The news source also highlighted the deployment of self-service kiosks at hospitals, clinics and other healthcare settings. These kiosks are very similar to those found in airports and banks, enabling healthcare providers to treat patients more efficiently, thereby reducing the strain imposed by a growing, aging population. One organization established kiosks in 60 clinics in California recently, and follow-up surveys found that three-quarters of patients found checking-in faster when using these devices than when speaking to a receptionist.

All of these IT services and technologies have the potential to greatly improve healthcare, both in terms of treatment and lifestyles. However, to take advantage of these benefits, healthcare providers must invest in the necessary IT systems and tools, as well as IT training for doctors, nurses and other personnel. Without such resources in place, providers will likely struggle to meet the demands posed by baby boomers in the coming years.

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