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Boomers turn into seniors: So far, health and tech innovations disappoint

These are interesting and disturbing times for boomer-turning senior consumers of health care.  The oldest baby boomers have turned 70. Some might even call them seniors. They are more likely than their parents to have chronic diseases, and 39% of baby boomers are obese. They are presented with rising health care costs, although real wages are barely growing. So what is the health tech sector inventing to help boomers span this disconnect between health, healthcare costs, and incomes?  Investors are becoming disillusioned with the array of tools have emerged that have only a tangential effect, including health apps they won’t download – and if they did, wearables that are not necessarily accurate or may not be secure. And so far, workplace health incentives that are not yet necessarily effective.


Cost of care and some readmission rates appear to be unaffected. On the one hand, a report by ACA International, noting that consumers don’t understand cost-sharing deductibles, “estimated that hospitals provided $46B of uncompensated care in 2012, with average debt recovery rates of 15 percent.”  Rising health insurance premiums are unaffected by technology use, and price increases appear to disproportionately impact workers, including the self-employed older adults not yet on Medicare.  And using smartphones and apps to monitor disease does not seem to reduce the cost of treating those diseases. And remote patient monitoring has also been shown to be ineffective at reducing re-admissions related to heart failure.


Innovation? Technology to help with bill repayment.  On the other hand, Consumer Reports notes that even with insurance, you are still not protected from ‘out of network’ charges incurred while you are unconscious on the operating table – like a $70,000 bill from a surgeon who doesn’t take YOUR insurance. The tech solution – help with bill repayment.  


Efficacy of care appears to be unaffected. It is chilling to read the list of the biggest safety risks for hospitalized patients. The key problems are basic and unsolved: Reading health records thoroughly – or even having access to thorough records; communicating properly, especially in patient hand-offs; calculating a unit of measure correctly.  These are the basics of procedural improvements and have almost nothing to do with electronic records -- which seems to serve as a glorified copier and email system.


Innovation? Wireless monitoring of disease may avert doctor visits – but not costs.  Dr. Eric Topol once asserted have found that the future of medicine may be in your smartphone. Maybe not a lower cost future -- according to reports this past week, your smartphone (and associated self-monitoring of chronic diseases) may not lower the treatment costs associated with those diseases. 


Security of health care information is deteriorating.  The most popular mobile health apps have documented security risks. Insurance companies have not adequately reassured consumers that their databases are securely protected from hackers today, let alone the millions of hacked consumer records in 2015 – and it is only beginning to be known how many of those have been sold on the black market.


Innovation? Big data?  Interoperability? On demand healthcare? Not so much.   Forget about ‘big data’ being too useful in the short term according to security experts. Organizations lack a clear strategy, data governance models (No kidding) and apparently data scientists who can figure out what to do with the data. Information does not flow seamlessly across boundaries (or perhaps at all) and the investment world is way ahead of the reality.

Comments

These times are interesting and challenging as the truth is that aging is the same for all generations, including the boomers. They are not excluded if they like it or not.  The early boomers might think that they will not age like their parents or grandparents but the reality is that they live longer with more chronic diseases because the medical world has extended life a couple more years for them.  Coming into their 70’s now, might still give them a “go-go” mindset but are they prepared for the “slow-going” years? Not even talking about the “no-going” years thereafter.  As the answers to these questions are negative the healthcare sector can only prepare for this new older adult boomer proactively with better management/information systems and a more interactive lifestyle that can deal with the mostly uninformed, unprepared customer on a case by case base; information on demand for a boomer who is used to this from other service oriented hospitality or retail providers.

Investors might become disillusioned as they have looked in the wrong direction, simplicity is not what the technocrats or the investors are intrigued by, they think in terms of patents and threshold of entry. The boomer is no different from the GI- or the Silent-Generation, aging is the same all over the world and no own can escape it; it is not for the birds. All technology can do is to make the journey more manageable. Don’t just sell them gadgets or impractical new tools, boomers need to be lead by the hand through the process of aging at the time when they turn into their late 70’s and 80’s, they will never be prepared nor is the tech-industry prepared for an ever changing customer base.   

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