Keeping up with 50+: How can we encourage innovation at the speed at which the 50+ population is growing?

shutterstock_164560796Forty-five percent of the United States population is more than 50 years old, and as science and medicine advance and lives extend, this number will only increase. As this key age group grows, keeping them healthy will be increasingly challenging, but no less crucial. As part of TEDMED’s commitment to fostering innovation in health and medicine – including for the 50+ population, TEDMED’s Shirley Bergin will once again be lending a hand to our partner AARP as an advisor for their Health Innovation@50+ LivePitch. (Applications are being accepted until February 20, so if you’re innovating in 50+ health and medicine – go ahead and throw your hat into the ring!)

To gain a better understanding of the problems facing 50+ health today and what we can do to address the specific needs of this age group, we interviewed three members of our TEDMED 2014 Hive, all of whom are doing great work to enhance health for the 50+ crowd. Read on to hear what they had to say.

What do you think is the biggest problem facing 50+ health today? What can be done to address it? 

Jon Michaeli, MediSafe: One of the biggest problems facing the 50+ demographic is access to affordable, quality care. Aging patients have diminishing access to time- and resource-strained providers who historically have helped to steer their care. As a result, many do not have adequate support to ensure they fill their medications and take them as prescribed. As baby boomers get older, they are diagnosed with more chronic conditions, resulting in an increase in prescriptions. Almost 20% of adults over 65 take ten or more medications and adherence rates drop by 30% in those taking four or more medications daily. Moreover, medication non-adherence accounts for more than 10% of older adult hospital admissions and approximately one-fourth of nursing home admissions. What this patient population needs are interconnected, interactive interventions that uniquely address their challenges, their acceptance of technology, their home environment, and need for caregiver and provider support.

Leon Eisen, Oxitone:Fears dominate the life of many over-50s, preventing them from engaging in adequately healthy behavior. An intensive educational activity accompanied with the 24/7 automated tracking of vitals — and continuous connection to the family members and healthcare professionals — could alleviate the problem.

Courtney Larned, CareSync: For the majority of Americans age 50 and over, the biggest health challenge is getting organized: building a medical team, with a primary physician who really cares and truly believes that older people can still live healthy, full lives, and specialists for any conditions or risk factors. It’s important to know what that patients know what they personally need. When patients…have a current file of [full] medical and family history…then they’re in the best possible position to make the healthiest choices on an ongoing basis and when emergencies happen. Other aspects of getting organized [include] knowing what health insurance covers, what it doesn’t, and what needs to be done in various medical situations to make the most of the insurance that you have; [being aware of drug, vitamin, and food conflicts]; and…putting your medical wishes into writing in a legally-binding advance medical directive…Information is power…the trick is to be as ready as possible.

Where do you see the biggest opportunity for innovation with the 50+ age set?

Jon Michaeli: With 86 million increasingly tech-savvy millennials, there are substantial opportunities for software platforms to help patients keep their care under control from their comfort of their own homes instead of being readmitted to the hospital for care. Non-proprietary cloud-based services are an ideal fit, because they allow multiple parties to participate in the patient’s care, irrespective of their technical capabilities (from landline phone and SMS, to web and mobile apps). Doctors and caregivers can be kept up to date remotely, correlate patients’ adherence to reported symptoms, side effects, biometrics and labs, and generally track progress without actively intervening unless necessary. This improves patient confidence and morale, gives loved ones peace of mind, and offers providers more visibility into patient outcomes.

Leon Eisen:The biggest opportunities will be found in educational, monitoring, self-management and behavior-changing solutions.

Courtney Larned:The generation that’s now stepping into senior citizen status is not used to the idea of being sidelined from anything and is going to want to stay as active as possible, in society, in the workplace, and personally. There’s a lot of room for innovation in government, to fully include all ages in task forces and work groups on policy issues. Practically speaking, there are a lot of ergonomic issues to consider in the workplace and public places – go to any health club and you’ll see the awesome adjustability of most of the machines. Why don’t we see this same adjustability in our office furniture and the medical equipment we are exposed to when we need CT-scans, MRIs, stress tests, radiation therapy and a host of other tests and procedures? So there’s another area crying out for innovation.

How do you think the quick growth of the 50+ population recently has impacted health innovation in this space? Do you see innovation growing in this area as the population increases? Why or why not?

Jon Michaeli: The propensity for chronic illness (and illness in general) increases with age, with chronic patients accounting for 75 – 80% of healthcare costs today. This is a major financial burden and is not sustainable. This in turn is driving innovation, as new technologies can monitor and provide care outside of the hospital. This need/demand is driving a supply of innovative solutions, and the investment appetite to fund it.

Leon Eisen:Innovations are growing exponentially as a result of quick market growth. The increase of population is resulting in more business opportunities.

Courtney Larned:We see and hear about a lot of innovation involving telemedicine, which has a lot to offer as an added tool for wellness, chronic disease, and certain types of easily diagnosed illnesses, but it’s important to remember that the human touch can never be fully removed from the equation. Telemedicine, trackers, smartphone apps, video house calls, and other services yet to be proposed can be a very helpful supplement for ongoing care. They should not be a substitute for an ongoing relationship with doctors or other medical professionals who know you, your situation, your preferences, challenges, and goals.