In years to come, there will be many more Americans aged 65 and above than children under the age of five years. And with age, health issues such as disability and illnesses are more likely to kick in; this presents a formidable challenge for healthcare delivery, which means more Americans will need more resources and care providers to meet their healthcare needs.
However, the healthcare system does not seem prepared to handle the complex tasks of caring for such a heterogeneous population. The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic further magnified this issue. While the healthcare system in the United States is designed to meet the needs of the general population, the needs of different age groups can vary significantly. The elderly, for example, often have different healthcare needs than young adults. As such, it is vital to understand how the healthcare system needs to change to meet the needs of this growing population.
Challenges posed by aging in the healthcare system
As the population ages, it presents far-reaching implications. The current median age in the US is 38.8 according to Statista, but this figure is expected to increase in the decades to come. This will likely pose direct health challenges for the health system, such as an increased demand for healthcare services, changing health profiles, and a rise in the cost of health.
The health challenges here are twofold: the rapidly increasing group of 85 years and over (these individuals suffer from a range of age-related health issues such as dementia, cancer, and arthritis); and the younger cohort of 65 years and over that present more lifestyle-related diseases than the previous generations, such as type 2 diabetes.
That being said, these challenges will most likely influence healthcare models of engagement and delivery in the near future. Some of these challenges include:
- More chronic diseases. As the population ages, the prevalence of chronic conditions increases. As such, older individuals are likely to have a higher prevalence of health problems, such as diabetes and arthritis. The disease burden on this age group is also likely to rise with time. This will put an added cost burden on the healthcare system.
- Increase in costs. The aging population will add to the already rising costs of healthcare. This is due to the ever-increasing prevalence of chronic and lifestyle-related diseases new to this generation, as well as rising healthcare costs in general. The increase in the healthcare needs of older individuals is also likely to result in the need for more healthcare professionals to meet this demand.
- Increase in non-communicable disease. As more individuals live longer, they are likely to suffer from non-communicable diseases, such as hypertension, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases.
How can health systems respond to population aging?
More hospitals are encouraged to invest in solutions that respond to the growing trends in population aging. Also, the mix of health services required by society, as well as how they are delivered and funded, needs to change.
An integrated health system
To tackle the rising costs, the health sector needs to become more integrated. Combining traditional care with newer technologies can improve healthcare outcomes, especially for vulnerable groups.As the population ages, it makes sense to ensure that levels of care are appropriate for each demographic. The health system needs to be accessible to all individuals. A multi-disciplinary integrated approach is key, where the focus is on managing chronic conditions, promoting healthy eating, and preventing acute ailments. Also, healthcare providers should target creating healthier communities that promote healthier aging.
The integrated approach offers advantages, such as personalized care, better coordination of services, and reduced duplicated efforts. It can also help institutions integrate specialties and services to meet the holistic needs of patients.
Enhancing productivity in healthcare through technology
It is important for healthcare systems to embrace technology as a way to improve the quality of care and access to better services in an integrated health system. The healthcare sector has seen a rapid increase in productivity, which is good for patients, achieved by enhancing healthcare worker scheduling and advancing the use of technology. This has the potential of increasing productivity by 30 percent, specialization, and improved response times. Technologies such as telemedicine, digital hospitals, and mobile health are some examples. Health systems should embrace these technologies to improve patient outcomes and access to services.
Such technology has the potential of improving access to care for low-income patients and reduces travel times for high-risk patients. Further, the implementation of technology in this sector will also reduce errors and improve clinical workflow as well as enhance patient safety.
Enroll for an Accelerated BSN program and promote healthy aging
Population aging is a huge challenge to the health sector and has the potential of changing how healthcare is delivered. To meet this rising need, the health sector needs to embrace new strategies, such as integrated care, new technologies, and better management of chronic conditions.
If you enroll for an Accelerated BSN at an accredited university like Saint Joseph’s College of Maine, you will likely learn about healthcare management and practice, patient advocacy and disease management, evidence-based nursing, leadership development, and nursing research. The program is designed for individuals who have already earned a bachelor’s degree in another field and are looking to make a career change into nursing. The program is typically shorter than a traditional BSN program, is offered in an online format, and can lead to a rewarding career in a growing industry.
Training medical students and healthcare professionals to become more specialized is key. The training programs must also focus on the effective management of chronic conditions, as well as include the development of strategies that promote healthy aging. And with an Accelerated BSN program, you can get the training and education you need to become a nurse and help people live better lives.
Enabling healthy aging
The primary healthcare sector plays a critical role in supporting and promoting healthy aging. By deploying broader strategies to enable active and healthy aging, as well as better managing multi-morbidity and chronic conditions, the health systems can be better equipped to meet the needs of an aging population.
Other targets to promote preventive health care for older people can include programs for preventing falls and fractures, which are quite common among older people and can be considerably costly to handle. Further, aged care programs with structured physical activity and exercise programs can help maintain healthy muscle tone, strength, and joint mobility. By improving the lifestyles of older individuals, the burden of illnesses can be significantly reduced among this age group.
Supporting socio-economic participation
As the population ages, it is important to reduce social inequalities and the risks that come with them. The provision of universal healthcare has the potential of improving access and quality of care for all individuals. This would require an acceptance of socio-economic gaps, including inequalities in access and equity between races, genders, and socio-economic groups.