With care for a rapidly growing aging population?

With one of the largest aging populations in the world, the healthcare
industry in the United States has begun to take center stage. “The
number of Americans age sixty-five and older is anticipated to reach 88.5
million in 2050” according to the US Census Bureau (Cimasi, 2017).  As life
expectancy increases, so does chronic illness. The cost of chronic illness
weighs heavily on a healthcare industry, that is currently suffering with
limited physician manpower. The cost of one senior’s health coverage is almost
double that of a non-senior. (Cimasi, 2017).  

In addition to covering previous seniors, the healthcare industry is
also tasked with caring for newly insured seniors. The Patient Protection and Affordable
Care Act helped insure an additional twenty million adults. (Cimasi,
2017). How do we care for a rapidly growing
aging population? Three trends that tackle this question include policies
surrounding healthcare reform, population health management, and health information
technology (HIT). In a highly politized country such as the United States, healthcare
coverage for seniors begins with a question of healthcare reform.  

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Healthcare reform simply means change in health policies. However, with the
political shift from largely Democratic to Republican views, healthcare reform has
become a trend again. Politicians have used healthcare reform as a tool to persuade
voters. Seniors are left with uncertainty as healthcare reform continues to change
with each political party. Access to healthcare for seniors was most recently
influenced by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which was strongly backed by
Democrats in 2010. Prior to the ACA, Seniors were left using safety nets to
supplement their health care costs. (Shin, 2016). Safety nets are
defined as largely publicly funded mission driven programs, that are funded by state
or federal governments. (Shin, 2016). Examples include entities such as health
clinics or health programs. (Shin, 2016). Safety
nets are not a solution to healthcare reform, as it itself is political in nature.
Now that the government is majority Republican, healthcare reform is inevitable
and leaves many seniors with a feeling of uncertainty. Health care reform is
heavily influenced by public health management.

Public health management is another current trend in healthcare. The
definition itself is comprised of several concepts. The first concept is to
understand the idea of public health. “The American Public Health
Association (APHA) defines public health as the promotion and protection of the
health of people and the communities where they live, learn, work, and play”,
(Swarthout, 2017). In addition, one must understand the importance of
population regarding public health management. “Populations can be defined by a
variety of characteristics, such as patient age, payer group, primary care provider
attribution, geographic region, or disease.” (Swarthout, 2017). Combining both
concepts gives you an overall view of public health management. Public health
management, is seen as one of the key trends in healthcare for seniors as it
not only addresses specific health concerns per population, but it offers
solutions. Specific examples of public health management include: targeted
preventive programs such as senior nutrition counseling or influenza
vaccinations programs. Public health management is a patient centered model of
healthcare that aims to prevent diseases by examining trends in health
populations (Swarthout, 2017). It remains very relevant when addressing healthcare
coverage for an aging population. Public health management begins to rely
heavily on healthcare information technology (HIT) as our dynamic population
increases.  

The biggest trend in healthcare is health information technology (HIT).
Healthcare information technology becomes the solution for dealing with a
dynamic aging population. The idea of healthcare information technology is a
met with both positives and negatives. HIT
can range anywhere from “tangible tools, pharmaceuticals, and software
that healthcare providers utilize when providing care and managing patient
records, to the procedures that standardize the course of care.” (Cimasi,
2017). HIT also includes items such as
wearable health trackable devices to monitoring your health via an online
database. Advances in HIT are groundbreaking for both seniors and the
healthcare 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 management
technology and clinical technology. Management technology is defined as “the
processes and procedures through which providers organize patient encounters,
charge entry, and the billing process; and the software and devices that
support these activities.” (Cimasi, 2017). Management technology examples
include electronic medical records or EMRs.

Advancements in
management technologies have directly impacted home health technologies. Home
health technologies are any treatment of health received in the home. Around
69% of the aging population depend on home health technology, and this number
will only increase as the baby boomer generation reaches retirement age.
(Cimansi, 2017). Therapeutic technology also correlates with home health
technologies as life expectancy increases. Therapeutic technology includes
robotics, pain management, and molecular pharmacology. (Cimasi, 2017). This
becomes particularly important with an aging population.

Clinical technology can
be 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 diabetic
kits. Both methods have contributed to advancements over the years. Strides in
clinical technology have made outpatient surgery more routine resulting in less
invasive procedures, and faster recovery times. (Cimansi, 2017).

Advancements in
clinical technology have also lead to advancements in genomics and stem cell
research. Genomics is key to preventing
disease. “Genomics is the evaluation of the hereditary information
provided by an organism’s DNA and the application of research findings to the
fields of genetic engineering and enhancement, cloning, stem cell research, and
eugenics” (Cimansi, 2017). Many scientists have discovered that many diseases
are genetic. Genetic diseases can be better treated when accurately monitored. Stem cell research, another advancement made possible
through clinical technology, provides scientists the material needed to
practice reparative therapy. Stem cell research can also be controversial as it
crosses religious and moral boundaries for some.

In addition to ethical or moral issues within healthcare technology, many
individuals are concerned with their health information being hacked. Cyberattacks
within the healthcare industry are increasing. It is estimated that the United
States healthcare industry spends about $6.2 billion each year due to data breeches.
(Parwani, 2017). When sensitive information is compromised it can impact a
patient, a hospital’s reputation, and even IT programs. (Parwani, 2017). Hackers
now have access to emergency medical records, credit card information,
confidential diagnosis, and even social security numbers. (Parwani, 2017). Due
to the increase of cyberattacks, many hospitals are reverting to traditional
recordkeeping techniques.

 As interconnectivity between patient and
doctor 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 prevent
cyberattacks.

Solutions for
protecting sensitive medical information are clear. One solution is to spend
more on IT security within health networks. “Symantec, an enterprise security
vendor, believes the healthcare industry is prone to cyberattacks because it
underfunds its cybersecurity investment.” (Parwani, 2017). In addition to
investing in stronger cybersecurity, the U.S. Office of the National
Coordinator (ONC) for Health Information Technology (HIT) suggests key steps to
prevent cyberattacks. (Parawni, 2017). Those steps include being more alert to
suspicious emails, creating stronger passwords, and monitoring results.
(Parwani, 2017). A combination of both individual user awareness, and securer systems
can prevent many cyber attacks in healthcare.

In conclusion, both trends previously mentioned are critical trends in
the healthcare industry, but the biggest trend remains health information technology.
Healthcare information technology offers direct solutions for how we can care
for an aging population.  Never before have doctors, patients, and other
health centered individuals had more access to information.  Patients can now check their blood pressure
outside of a doctor’s office and email their doctor the results. Doctors can
then follow up via email without seeing a patient. This simple technology addresses
the lack of physician issue mentioned earlier.  HIT also provides ground breaking research
through genomics to better monitor chronic illness. Chronic illness is a key
contributor to addressing the healthcare woes of aging seniors. As the number
of growing seniors continue climb, it is essential that we continue investing
in health information technology.

References

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