An aging America: The future of healthcare depends on telehealth
Monday, August 11, 2014
As a country, we are living longer and in greater numbers. The number of people over the age of 65 in America is predicted to rise to nearly 80 million by 2040, according to the Administration on Aging.
When that happens, there will be more people living in our country who are over the age of 65 than at any point before in history, a fact that has many wondering if the U.S. healthcare system will have the resources, systems and integration to care for such a substantial older adult population.
Add in the fact that older adults have higher incidences of chronic health conditions — cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, behavioral health issues and obesity — that require not just one office visit per year with a healthcare professional but ongoing, regular education, monitoring and consultation.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 80 percent of older adults have one chronic health condition, and 50 percent have at least two. Older adults are also more likely to suffer serious complications from infectious diseases like the flu and pneumonia, as well as from injuries.
This unprecedented surge in the older adult population will put operational and financial strains on the healthcare system that it has never before experienced.
One of the most accessible ways available today to ease the strain of an aging population on the healthcare system is through the deployment of telehealth. Clearly defined, telehealth allows healthcare professionals to provide monitoring, consultation, communication and education to patients in their own homes via an Internet or telephone connection.
Telehealth has the power to transform healthcare for providers and patients alike. As older adults adopt technologies at increasing rates, communicating with healthcare providers through technology becomes more acceptable and comfortable. For providers, telehealth allows them to manage the ongoing care of a booming older adult population and the various chronic conditions they experience.
With telehealth, the healthcare system can more efficiently, effectively and affordably:
- Ease care transitions from care facility to home, creating improved health outcomes
- Monitor patients in their homes and address emerging health issues before they lead to hospitalizations
- Keep an ongoing check of vital signs to better monitor and care for chronic diseases
- Provide virtual checkups for disabled or bed-bound individuals
- Provide wellness education to help patients better understand their diagnoses and care plan so that can better self-manage their conditions
In addition to being more affordable on the provider side, monitoring older adults in their real-world environments — at home or in an assisted-living facility — is often far more convenient for the patient, as well as a considerably safer solution for older adults and others with compromised immune systems. Home monitoring also replicates the patient's condition and environmental challenges, alerting the care team to changes that are required in order to produce a healthier and safer living environment.
Telehealth is a solution that extends to agencies that provide home care to older adults. Many such agencies currently deploy a caregiver to an older adult's home for an issue that could be managed via telehealth.
Using telehealth to monitor older adults for emerging health issues and emergencies, such as changes in vitals, medication adherence issues and even wandering, may help alleviate the need for caregivers around the clock. This would provide savings on both sides of the care equation.
As the aging community grows, the process of caring for them must evolve to meet new demands and reduce strains that could potentially overburden our healthcare system. Telehealth presents real solutions that are needed today. The future of healthcare for our aging population depends on it.
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