Managing health care for seniors, who typically have progressively more complex needs and multiple specialists contributing to their care, is never an easy task. But with the median age of the United States population increasing steadily and the baby boomer generation aging into this category, the challenges – not to mention the costs – facing the health care industry are only going to become more significant.
According to United States Census data, the number of people aged 65 and older is projected to increase from 39 million in 2010 to 69 million in 2030, about 20% of the projected 2030 population. The median age in developed countries is predicted to rise to 45.5 in 2050, as compared to 29.0 in 1950 and 37.3 in 2000. Health care spending has also tracked upwards in recent years, from 5% of the national GDP in 1960 to 17% in 2008, or $2.4 trillion. It is expected to nearly double by 2018 to $4.4 trillion.
However, electronic health records (EHR) and health information exchange (HIE) may be able to improve the coordination of records along the continuum of patient care, controlling costs and creating a better experience for both physicians and aging patients by giving providers a clear way to track expenses, identify high-risk patients, and streamline the use of resources.
EHR and HIE are also useful in reducing the number of tests and procedures repeated by multiple providers, which keeps costs down and patients happy. When a patient’s entire record is available to every physician he visits, providers are presented with a complete picture of the patient’s health status, enabling the proactive management of his care.
Hospitalizations can be optimized through cost analysis tracking tools, or avoided all together by the use of home health monitoring applications. Video and audio conferencing can help increase the communication between patients and providers, reducing the need for costly office visits that turn out to be unnecessary.
But providers need to adopt EHR measures in order for them to be useful, and patients need to learn what opportunities are available to them and how to access measures like secure messaging and patient web portals. The American Investment and Recovery Act of 2009 is ensuring that these important steps are taking place by providing $19 billion in funding and requiring providers to implement EHR and providing financial incentives for the meaningful use of these new systems.
With the growing number of patients needing to use these resources, technical challenges arise, partly from the sheer volume of potential users. Ensuring that EHR and HIE systems are capable of handling the number and type of requests is vital. Developers must keep efficiency, ease of use, and emerging technologies in mind when creating systems that will be responsible for the sensitive information of millions of patients.
Above all, both providers and technology experts must pay attention to the changing needs of patients as the population ages, and take advantage of the opportunities that EHR and HIE present in the evolving healthcare landscape.