How an Aging Population is Changing The US Healthcare Sector

Updated on February 23, 2021

As the age of the average American continues to rise, the healthcare sector is facing a variety of fresh challenges. The socio-economic transformations will continue to affect patients and healthcare workers alike, leading to changes in health infrastructure, careers, and technologies. The challenge for the healthcare industry is ensuring that it remains ahead of the predicted changes, and that it has a workforce equipped to cope with the demands of that aging population. Over the next 50 years, there will be an unprecedented impact on the healthcare sector in the US, and leaders in the field must be prepared to face them.

Patient Independence

In today’s healthcare environment, the wishes of elderly patients are too often overlooked. Decisions that are made about their healthcare are commonly left to family members or doctors, meaning that elderly patients can become frustrated by a lack of input. As it has become much easier to achieve higher levels of independence via the use of technology, older patients need to be able to have far greater input into the healthcare decisions that affect them long-term. Telemedicine saw a huge boost in 2020, and that one factor alone means that even elderly patients living alone can have easy access to a wide range of treatments. While telemedicine isn’t suitable for all types of treatment and elderly care, it can mean that independence is easier to achieve.

Changing Family Structure

The families of today are very different from the family model of the 1950s. Families are changing in the US, often becoming more separated by both distance and worldviews. It can no longer be expected that younger members of the family will change their lives to care for elderly family members, as has been the norm for decades. For those elderly patients that do have family members willing and able to uproot their lives to become a full-time caregiver, the financial costs of such a decision can often be prohibitive. Training for those amateur caregivers is expensive, which is why education costs will need to be dramatically reduced. When those caregivers end up having to carry out tasks that are the usual remit of nurses, having access to more low-cost training is an area of the healthcare industry that needs to be addressed.

Healthcare Careers

Another aspect of healthcare that is often overlooked is the fact that healthcare professionals aren’t getting any younger either. Physical and mental health advances mean that retiring at 66 is no longer a necessity that’s demanded. Retirement is always a tricky issue, especially in the months immediately following the sudden loss of work. That means healthcare professionals are likely to work for longer while growing older alongside their patients. That doesn’t mean that there is going to be a lack of opportunities for those entering the healthcare industry. There are more opportunities than ever, and focusing on the career options that target the expected issues of an elderly population means more possibilities than are often considered. One area that is already seeing an increase is RCFE admin, with many healthcare workers repositioning themselves to a career as an RCFE administrator by undertaking the necessary training. As the elderly population grows, these key career changes are going to make the social shift much easier to adapt to. 

New Technologies

The medical sector has always been a fast adopter and even a driver of new technologies. As our tech continues to grow more advanced, faster, and more capable of challenging tasks, healthcare professionals need to be ready to make use of it. The number of technologies that are already changing healthcare is too many to list and cover everything from Artificial Intelligence and Big Data to 3D printing and robotics. Already, bones are being 3D printed inside the body, and machine learning is being used to identify patient issues and develop new treatments and drugs. The future of medical treatment for patients of all ages is going to be increasingly technology-focused, and that’s going to mean new skills for healthcare professionals. Doctors and nurses alike will need to know how to be able to use those technologies to improve patient care, which is going to transform the skillsets of those professionals. There’s also the fact that as those new technologies become more advanced, the lifespan and quality of life for patients is also going to grow, compounding the issues of that growth in elderly population figures.

Off-Site Treatment

Already, off-site treatment is becoming far more common. The move away from treatment options that rely on patients traveling to a healthcare facility is going to have far-reaching effects. Firstly, there is the fact that elderly patients will no longer be exposed to potential risks that are commonly found in clinical environments, such as viruses and bacteria. With more patients living alone in their own properties, healthcare workers will need to be able to travel to those patients rather than the other way round. This is already a growing trend, and it is expected that it is a trend that is not going to go away anytime soon. However, it is going to mean that elderly patients need to be equipped with all of the resources that they need to allow for more robust self-care. That’s going to mean higher levels of access to technologies, training, and the delivery of more independent palliative care models. 

Industry Silos

Communication and collaboration within healthcare have always been a notorious challenge. When patients have to see a wide range of specialists, the risk of overtreatment, missed diagnoses, or even counterproductive medications only grows. Most healthcare professionals are aware of this issue but assume that the problem is technology-related. The reality is that technology is likely to be the solution. Industry silos occur when teams are unable to communicate with other teams, and that lack of effective communication can quickly lead to unintended errors. With a sharp increase in remote working technologies in the business sector and the rapid adoption of Cloud-based data storage and collaboration tools, that lack of collaboration is likely to become dramatically reduced. That’s good news for elderly patients who are more likely to need a range of treatments and good news for the healthcare professionals who want to improve the quality of life for those patients. Industry silos need to be identified and challenged so that they can be more easily resolved.

The Cost of Healthcare

One of the most controversial aspects of healthcare in the US is about who can access it and at what price. There are going to be huge financial implications for healthcare, with the World Health Organization reporting that by 2030, the baby boomer generation will require a huge leap in required treatments, with 60% of that generation having to manage at least one chronic condition. This is going to place an unprecedented level of demand on the financial management of healthcare facilities and ensuring that elderly patients have access to the cost-effective and budget-capable healthcare options that are available. This is going to require a shift in the way that we approach the methods that patients can pay for their healthcare, with governments and healthcare workers alike having to re-approach healthcare payment models.

There’s a huge social shift on the way, and it’s already making its presence felt. As the population of the US continues to age, all industries are going to need to start paying close attention to the changing needs of that population. For the healthcare sector, in particular, there is a wide range of changes coming, and professionals in the industry need to be aware of them and ready to adapt. Failing to do so is not going to be an option.

The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.