Ten thousand Americans turn 65 every day, adding to a population that will nearly double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060. Approximately 85 percent of them are managing at least one chronic health condition, and 60 percent have at least two. One of the most important steps an aging society like ours can take then is simply to make the health care experience better for such patients, in terms of both improved outcomes and reduced complexity.
The health care industry now has powerful tools it can apply toward these goals. Thanks to the careful and judicious parsing of population-level data, frequently aided by machine learning — technology that uses data to make predictions to enable better informed decisions — it’s become possible for providers to offer personalized care strategies for each individual patient. New approaches to at-home health care, such as urgent care in the home, are making the patient experience more convenient than ever. These developments have the potential to transform the time patients spend in contact with the health care system as well as their resulting outcomes.
However, a major challenge remains: making all the disparate parts of such a system— including health determinants like food and housing — work together. To solve that puzzle would be to identify a new way forward for the world’s aging populations. The good news is that the solutions are getting closer each day.
Humana, a care delivery and health plan administration company, has used artificial intelligence to identify and personally reach out to customers who may need greater assistance in accessing health care. This effort revealed insights into their greatest needs as well as the powerful influence of social determinants of health. Many people shared that access to nutritious food was a serious issue. As a result, Humana has delivered more than 1.5 million meals to seniors across the country. Similarly, after hearing that many were struggling with loneliness from social distancing, Humana partnered with organizations like Papa to help mitigate the isolation by connecting seniors with younger caregivers.
Data are making the health care journey more personal by addressing social determinants of health, but they are also revealing important insights about how and where older Americans want to receive care. Surveys revealed that 80 percent of older Americans prefer getting care in their homes.
And thanks to a slew of innovative companies such as DispatchHealth, Heal, and Kindred at Home, care in homes is becoming not just possible but also increasingly normalized. When Humana member John, who has multiple chronic conditions, was having trouble catching his breath, the nurses from health care services company Kindred at Home called DispatchHealth, a company that delivers acute, hospital-level care in the home, which performed a chest X-ray revealing he had pneumonia. Saving him a costly emergency room and potential hospital visit, Dispatch and Kindred’s coordinated care also helped him get the medication he needed from his local pharmacy.
For John, managing his conditions requires in-home visits from health professionals. But other patients may not need or want the same in-home care. That’s why health plans must create a robust, coordinated ecosystem of traditional in-home and remote options for care. A combination of insights into patient needs and comprehensive offerings to meet them will help create the quality of care older adults deserve.
The coronavirus pandemic only added to already growing patient demand for opportunities to connect with health care providers remotely. As a result, telehealth saw a 32 percent utilization rate, jumping from less than one-third of a percent before the pandemic. Telemedicine, along with other digital tools like remote monitoring and telepsychiatry services, is also helping reach older Americans. Remote monitoring tools like a heart rate monitor can keep providers tapped into the day-to-day health needs of their patients, and telepsychiatry services hold great promise for helping seniors access critical mental health care from where they want it — at home.
From in-home visits to video appointments, multipronged approaches are creating a path for older Americans to have a personalized, holistic health care experience. And it’s only the beginning. Every day, industry-leading researchers and talent at places like the MIT AgeLab and Humana’s Studio H in Boston are collaborating to create more innovative care options for older adults.
Such digital tools are not replacing doctors and traditional care options. The trend in health care innovation is not to replace human-to-human interactions, but rather to add to them by making health care services more convenient for patients.
Exciting digital developments in health care come with an industry-wide responsibility to advocate for the 42 percent of older Americans who lack adequate broadband access at home. Initiatives like the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit, an effort to provide affordable Internet services to connect eligible homes, are crucial in ensuring no one is left behind.
Another responsibility the industry must continue to own is the ethical management of data. As people find themselves interacting more with digital health tools, it’s important they know their data are protected. Establishing a foundation of trust is essential to leveraging data to create better experiences.
With the number of baby boomers turning 65 each day, there’s no time to wait — the health care industry must invest in personalized, integrated care to help meet older adults’ health needs. By committing to such an approach, the health system can provide the quality care we will all need to manage our health in the decades to come.
Heather Cox is chief digital health and analytics officer at Humana.