THE BLOG

Baby Boomers and the Future of Health Care

28/10/2015 10:46 GMT | Updated 28/10/2016 10:12 BST

I belong to the big 'baby boom' generation. Born between 1946 and 1964, the baby boomers have shaped the modern world: youth culture, individualism, consumer choice and of course the digital age. Tim Berners Lee, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs - all baby boomers.

The youngest boomers turned 50 last year and are redefining what middle age means. Official retirement ages are rising in many countries (including Spain, where I'm from) and we'll be working for longer. Research suggests that old age today doesn't really start until 74. So, if we take good care of ourselves, the chances are - to paraphrase The Who - we're not 'going to die before we get old'.

Like a lot of my peers, I enjoy using apps and wearable technology that monitor my fitness and activity. I use a Fitbit and an Apple watch, linked to health applications on my iPhone, that tell me how long and how far I've run, how many steps I've taken and what my heart rate is doing.

My family has an online (and multigenerational) Fitbit group 'in the cloud' where we can securely share our personal results and compare our progress with each other. Of course, the result is intense competition. Nobody wants to be last. But this 'gamification' is a great incentive. Once people find themselves competing with others, the more motivated they are, to achieve 10,000 steps, reduce their weight or blood pressure.

Of course, it's not just baby boomers who have embraced mobile technology. More than half the UK population - 35 million - now has a smartphone and half of all UK homes have a tablet . My 80 year old Spanish mother in law keenly tracks her daily steps using a Pebble smartwatch.

Wearable technology is advancing fast. We are only a few steps away from intelligent wearable devices that can remotely report key health indicators and alert us/our carers/our doctor if something is out of line. Take Airstrip, which lets doctors track patients' vital signs via an Apple watch - so that obstetricians can more closely monitor high risk pregnancies, for example . And Google is working on a contact lens to measure glucose levels in tears, which would make life easier for the world's millions of diabetics .

It's exciting to imagine how we can harness all these trends together to create a whole new environment for the delivery of health and social care services. Using smart devices for individual monitoring and personal feedback could allow us all to better manage our own wellbeing, and help providers deliver more tailored care. In the future, there may be little need to visit the surgery or clinic in person. We'll securely share our health indicators remotely with our GP; we'll use Skype or FaceTime for routine consultations; digital reminders will prompt us to take medication or get more exercise.

Add in cloud-based services, delivered over the internet to mobile devices, and we'll be able to develop genuinely personalised care packages chosen from hundreds of digital health care applications. Health and social care commissioning bodies can mix and match what they need to deliver highly personalised care to everyone who needs it.

The planned shift to personal care budgets will let us choose what we need as individual consumers, when we want it, delivered by a combination of technology and people. We ageing boomers might each have our personal cloud of social and health care services that we manage from our smartphones, bracelets and watches (or whatever device comes next). Such a scenario would give baby boomers the control and choice they like, as well as help meet the pressing need to deliver more efficient and effective public services for an ageing population.

In the UK, the NHS talks about putting "patients in the driving seat of their care". Wearable technology, smart devices and online services are the tools we need to make that happen. And we baby boomers are going to be just fine with that.