I believe this is a topic that is near and dear to our heart for many of us. If not now, it will be. I was initially faced with this problem as we brought my grandparents over from China to stay with us here in the U.S. so that we can better take care of them. This construct, however, is highly cultural in nature. As we came to learn, there is a whole range of solutions which we, as Americans, have created to address the needs of our aging loved ones, and little of which we truly understand.

So What’s the Big Deal?

Between 2012 and 2050, the United States will experience considerable growth in its older population. In 2050, the population aged 65 and over is projected to be 83.7 million, almost double its estimated population of 43.1 million in 2012.

Source: US Census Bureau

The impact of this trend will be significant. Longer life expectancy for an increasingly aging population will further put the healthcare system we have today under duress. According to HHS & DOL, 27 million Americans will require some type of long term care by 2050. In response, between 5.7 million & 6.5 million nurses, nurse aides, home health & personal care workers will be needed to care for these individuals.

From a pure economic perspective, we would either need to task the nation to increase the supply of caregivers through a series of incentives and programs, or reduce the demand for such services – an implication for better management of chronic conditions for the elderly. This is particularly the reason that concepts such as “assisted independent living” and “aging in place” have been able to garner a sizeable following, for very different reasons.

Regardless of the “vehicle” considered in this framework, there are some key questions which we’ve asked ourselves:

  • Who is going to take care of our grandparents?
  • Do we trust this person? On what capacity?
  • Where should our grandparents live?
  • How should we manage our grandparents’ chronic conditions?
  • What options would our grandparents prefer, yet at the same time, options we’re comfortable with?
  • Can we even afford these options?

These are just the beginning of the questions we found ourselves asking, and the beauty…as well as the challenge, is that we will likely have all different kinds of answers. So how can you, perhaps as a provider organization, possibly solve a healthcare delivery problem when there are such personal motivations involved in the decision-making process?

In my work at Watson, we’ve come across multiple stakeholders who are looking at this problem from a variety of angles. We’ve come across innovators in the space who are trying to implement a set of remote monitoring capabilities to better equip caregivers in addressing the needs of the elderly population, typically in a specific social construct (long-term care facility, for example). Sensors, analytics, dashboards – all the bells and whistles. We know the folks at Aging 2.0 who are working very closely and diligently with their cohort of disruptors trying to change the game in this space. Shoot their co-founder, Stephen Johnston, a quick tweet, if you’d like to learn more.

On the other hand, as we engage with the government entities abroad, we realized that this is a trend/problem felt by most developed (and even developing) nations.

Case in point: Singapore.

By 2020, manpower needs in the Intermediate and Long-Term Care (ILTC) sector, will grow by about four times, from the current 4,000 to about 15,000. Singapore will need more healthcare staff across all levels, from nurses, therapists, medical social workers to healthcare support workers.

The Government will invest in building up the capacity and capability of the ILTC sector, including its ability to attract and retain staff. For a start, up to $32 million will be channeled into manpower initiatives such as pay enhancements for the healthcare professionals in the sector and enhanced staffing for community hospitals and nursing homes in FY2012. These initiatives are expected to support the sector in attracting and retaining more quality staff.

Source: Singapore Ministry of Health, 2020 Roadmap

Feel free to “drop in” on any nation’s healthcare ministry roadmap – you’d find a similar emphasis.

Coming back to the equation (supply vs. demand), we would naturally ask whether and how technology can play a role in this. Here are the questions I’d leave you with:

  • Can technology help us scale the necessary expertise in order to virtually replicate and increase the supply of care-provision?
  • Can technology help us identify, stratify, monitor, and advise for those who suffer from chronic illnesses in order to reduce the demand of care-provision?

Of course, as we know, the topic of health is, and should never be, so simple and one-dimensional. However, these are the questions we should get started with, and I know many are already working on solutions in answering these questions.

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