With the proportion of over 65s on the increase, Britain is facing its biggest ever crisis when it comes to care of the elderly. And without the money to resolve the issue, could technology be the saving grace?
In recent years there has been an explosion in technological innovation in the field of elderly care. We are facing a future where a shrinking workforce is going to have to support a growing population of older people. The number of over 65s in Britain stood at 15 per cent in 1985. By 2010 this had risen to 17 per cent, an increase of 1.7 million. It is projected that by 2035 those over 65 will make up 23 per cent of the population. A quick glance at numbers like these explains why the race is on to find tech solutions to elderly care, motivated by a need both to improve services and to save costs.
One of the most striking revelations in recent research shows that the shift in individuals accessing healthcare information via computers and mobile devices is happening at an incredible pace. The 'digital patient' is becoming ever more tech savvy and we now need the tools and support to meet the demands.
In fact, there is much that could be learnt from consumer-focused sectors, such as retail, in terms of how they react to constantly evolving and increasingly sophisticated consumer behaviour when it comes to using mobile technologies. Embracing the increasingly digital world in which we live in has not only benefitted various sectors in financial terms, it has actually resulted in fundamental changes in consumer behaviour. For example, in retail, consumers' shopping habits have changed drastically - to the point where we now research products, find out where to buy things and make the final purchase, all on either computers or mobile devices. A few years ago, I very much doubt many people would have thought they'd do most of their shopping online today; hopefully much of this could be replicated to healthcare.
With an ageing population and the need for cost effective healthcare, I really do believe that health tech is capable of providing cost-effective solutions at a time when the demands on health and social care services continue to increase. There's an enormous potential for digital tech to improve many aspects of health, as long as we allow it to.
Already, a recent study showed that over 70% of the UK population goes online for health information. This is what we need to build upon and to provide services to meet the growing demand of online health services, across the board, in the same way as happened with retail only a few years ago. In fact, it's all about redesigning the services that are already out there, making them more efficient and obtainable.
It was only recently that 'new' technology turned us into wearable fanatics; every other person was spotted with either a Fitbit, Nike FuelBand or Jawbone, keeping track of their health. People felt as if they were in charge of their own body in a whole new way.
Taking this one step further and applying some of these technologies to remote monitoring and the use of digital messages to remind or alert patients to adhere treatment or therapy is where we need to take this. There is also an enormous potential for further improvements across many aspects of health care provision -think residential and nursing homes and hospitals.
At the moment, I'd say that transforming services for over 65s represents the biggest opportunity in our healthcare system. The challenge is to develop a sustainable, reliable, system where the client / patient is in charge, and decides what help and when they need it. No more waiting for someone from the council to decide whether care-home or home care is the 'right' decision, no more only pre-scheduled care visits when the help may in fact be required 'out of hours'.
As with any changes it won't happen over night, but hopefully, as we already rely upon technology for so many things in life, making healthcare more 'tech-friendly' will prove to be less complex than many other things within our health system.