With care for a rapidly growing aging population?

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Last updated: December 27, 2019

With one of the largest aging populations in the world, the healthcareindustry in the United States has begun to take center stage.

“Thenumber of Americans age sixty-five and older is anticipated to reach 88.5million in 2050” according to the US Census Bureau (Cimasi, 2017).  As lifeexpectancy increases, so does chronic illness. The cost of chronic illnessweighs heavily on a healthcare industry, that is currently suffering withlimited physician manpower. The cost of one senior’s health coverage is almostdouble that of a non-senior.

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(Cimasi, 2017).  In addition to covering previous seniors, the healthcare industry isalso tasked with caring for newly insured seniors. The Patient Protection and AffordableCare Act helped insure an additional twenty million adults. (Cimasi,2017).

How do we care for a rapidly growingaging population? Three trends that tackle this question include policiessurrounding healthcare reform, population health management, and health informationtechnology (HIT). In a highly politized country such as the United States, healthcarecoverage for seniors begins with a question of healthcare reform.  Healthcare reform simply means change in health policies.

However, with thepolitical shift from largely Democratic to Republican views, healthcare reform hasbecome a trend again. Politicians have used healthcare reform as a tool to persuadevoters. Seniors are left with uncertainty as healthcare reform continues to changewith each political party. Access to healthcare for seniors was most recentlyinfluenced by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which was strongly backed byDemocrats in 2010. Prior to the ACA, Seniors were left using safety nets tosupplement their health care costs. (Shin, 2016). Safety nets aredefined as largely publicly funded mission driven programs, that are funded by stateor federal governments. (Shin, 2016).

Examples include entities such as healthclinics or health programs. (Shin, 2016). Safetynets are not a solution to healthcare reform, as it itself is political in nature.

Now that the government is majority Republican, healthcare reform is inevitableand leaves many seniors with a feeling of uncertainty. Health care reform isheavily influenced by public health management. Public health management is another current trend in healthcare. Thedefinition itself is comprised of several concepts. The first concept is tounderstand the idea of public health. “The American Public HealthAssociation (APHA) defines public health as the promotion and protection of thehealth of people and the communities where they live, learn, work, and play”,(Swarthout, 2017).

In addition, one must understand the importance ofpopulation regarding public health management. “Populations can be defined by avariety of characteristics, such as patient age, payer group, primary care providerattribution, geographic region, or disease.” (Swarthout, 2017). Combining bothconcepts gives you an overall view of public health management. Public healthmanagement, is seen as one of the key trends in healthcare for seniors as itnot only addresses specific health concerns per population, but it offerssolutions.

Specific examples of public health management include: targetedpreventive programs such as senior nutrition counseling or influenzavaccinations programs. Public health management is a patient centered model ofhealthcare that aims to prevent diseases by examining trends in healthpopulations (Swarthout, 2017). It remains very relevant when addressing healthcarecoverage for an aging population. Public health management begins to relyheavily on healthcare information technology (HIT) as our dynamic populationincreases.

 The biggest trend in healthcare is health information technology (HIT).Healthcare information technology becomes the solution for dealing with adynamic aging population. The idea of healthcare information technology is amet with both positives and negatives.

HITcan range anywhere from “tangible tools, pharmaceuticals, and softwarethat healthcare providers utilize when providing care and managing patientrecords, to the procedures that standardize the course of care.” (Cimasi,2017). HIT also includes items such aswearable health trackable devices to monitoring your health via an onlinedatabase. Advances in HIT are groundbreaking for both seniors and thehealthcare industry.

HIT is important as it provides preventative care,alternative solutions, and aids in advanced research methods. Health information technology can be classified in two categories managementtechnology and clinical technology. Management technology is defined as “theprocesses and procedures through which providers organize patient encounters,charge entry, and the billing process; and the software and devices thatsupport these activities.” (Cimasi, 2017). Management technology examplesinclude electronic medical records or EMRs. Advancements inmanagement technologies have directly impacted home health technologies. Homehealth technologies are any treatment of health received in the home. Around69% of the aging population depend on home health technology, and this numberwill only increase as the baby boomer generation reaches retirement age.

(Cimansi, 2017). Therapeutic technology also correlates with home healthtechnologies as life expectancy increases. Therapeutic technology includesrobotics, pain management, and molecular pharmacology. (Cimasi, 2017). Thisbecomes particularly important with an aging population.

Clinical technology canbe defined by “any method or device used in patient treatment procedures, e.g.,pharmaceuticals, surgical devices, and minimally invasive techniques” (Cimasi,2017). Clinical technology examples include automated self-testing diabetickits. Both methods have contributed to advancements over the years.

Strides inclinical technology have made outpatient surgery more routine resulting in lessinvasive procedures, and faster recovery times. (Cimansi, 2017). Advancements inclinical technology have also lead to advancements in genomics and stem cellresearch.

Genomics is key to preventingdisease. “Genomics is the evaluation of the hereditary informationprovided by an organism’s DNA and the application of research findings to thefields of genetic engineering and enhancement, cloning, stem cell research, andeugenics” (Cimansi, 2017). Many scientists have discovered that many diseasesare genetic. Genetic diseases can be better treated when accurately monitored. Stem cell research, another advancement made possiblethrough clinical technology, provides scientists the material needed topractice reparative therapy. Stem cell research can also be controversial as itcrosses religious and moral boundaries for some. In addition to ethical or moral issues within healthcare technology, manyindividuals are concerned with their health information being hacked. Cyberattackswithin the healthcare industry are increasing.

It is estimated that the UnitedStates healthcare industry spends about $6.2 billion each year due to data breeches.(Parwani, 2017). When sensitive information is compromised it can impact apatient, a hospital’s reputation, and even IT programs. (Parwani, 2017).

Hackersnow have access to emergency medical records, credit card information,confidential diagnosis, and even social security numbers. (Parwani, 2017). Dueto the increase of cyberattacks, many hospitals are reverting to traditionalrecordkeeping techniques.

 As interconnectivity between patient anddoctor increases, so does the possibility of information being compromised.Although the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA)attempts to protects sensitive medical information, it can not preventcyberattacks. Solutions forprotecting sensitive medical information are clear.

One solution is to spendmore on IT security within health networks. “Symantec, an enterprise securityvendor, believes the healthcare industry is prone to cyberattacks because itunderfunds its cybersecurity investment.” (Parwani, 2017).

In addition toinvesting in stronger cybersecurity, the U.S. Office of the NationalCoordinator (ONC) for Health Information Technology (HIT) suggests key steps toprevent cyberattacks. (Parawni, 2017). Those steps include being more alert tosuspicious emails, creating stronger passwords, and monitoring results.(Parwani, 2017). A combination of both individual user awareness, and securer systemscan prevent many cyber attacks in healthcare.

In conclusion, both trends previously mentioned are critical trends inthe healthcare industry, but the biggest trend remains health information technology.Healthcare information technology offers direct solutions for how we can carefor an aging population.  Never before have doctors, patients, and otherhealth centered individuals had more access to information.

  Patients can now check their blood pressureoutside of a doctor’s office and email their doctor the results. Doctors canthen follow up via email without seeing a patient. This simple technology addressesthe lack of physician issue mentioned earlier.  HIT also provides ground breaking researchthrough genomics to better monitor chronic illness. Chronic illness is a keycontributor to addressing the healthcare woes of aging seniors. As the numberof growing seniors continue climb, it is essential that we continue investingin health information technology.

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