The world is aging rapidly. What challenges are we confronted with seeing the expansion of people’s life span? How will the healthcare industry evolve and transform to solve these issues? What are the difficulties that we still need to address during this process?
In the future, the healthcare will shift from post-disease treatment to daily well-being and disease prevention.
Data generated from Internet of Things (IoT) and personalized artificial intelligence (AI) will enable a consumer-driven life care including precision treatment and chronic disease management. Technologies will be used not only to improve human’s physical health, but also to take care of our mental health, behavioural health, loneliness and social isolation.
What are the ageing challenges that we are faced with today?
The world is getting old in a faster pace than ever. According to the United Nations, the 60+ population will more than double from 1 in 7 people in the world to 2 in 7 by 2050, which constitutes a shift from 12% to 22% of the total population. In China where I live, the Seniors population will rise to 4 in every 10 people in the total Chinese population, i.e. 500 million people, further straining the already overloaded aged care infrastructure in the country.
However, facing this Silver Tsunami Bombing across the world, the caregivers that we need for seniors are in great shortage. Globally, the proportion of younger people who might be able to provide this care is falling, and women, the traditional caregivers within many families, are already filling, or aspiring to, other social and economic roles. As a result, the assumption that families alone can meet the needs of older people with significant losses of capacity is outdated and neither sustainable nor equitable.
Besides, today, most health systems around the world are un-adapted and ill-prepared to address the needs of seniors, who often have multiple chronic conditions and live alone at home. Health services are often designed to cure acute conditions rather than prevent them, while WHO says that 80% of chronic diseases and 40% of cancers are preventable.
Meanwhile, people live longer but lonelier. Loneliness experienced by seniors both affects and is affected by social activities, solitary leisure activities, physical exercise, emotional health, self-rated health, and functional limitations. Early interventions for loneliness are cited as the key to both preventing social isolation and the associated health risks.
How can we solve these issues?
Health care industry players should begin taking actions today with the vision for 2050 in mind. There are many things that we should do to get there, some of the most critical actions can be to adopt emerging technologies, and create now solutions and business models from them.
Real-time health monitoring
Currently, there is no systematic health monitoring measures in place that bring transparency and awareness to a senior’s health status or provide risk warnings at an early stage. By the time they visit a hospital, chronic diseases have often become too advanced and hence challenging to cure effectively.
The good news is that IoT, electronic devices, and wearables are able to gather real-time health data easily in our daily life. From those data, risk factors can be identified, some diseases can be detected and interventions can be implemented at the right time.
For example, HiNounou is offering a dedicated Home Wellness Kit to seniors, which enable them and their families to be aware of seniors’ health status and prevent chronic diseases. Some real estate companies are building assisted living facilities that are equipped with smart medical devices, sensors, alarms and voice-activated assistants to take care of older residents.
Accessible and affordable telehealth
Telehealth is gaining momentum these days in China with the expansion of the coronavirus outbreak. Key players like PingAn Good Doctor and WeDoctor as well as main insurance companies are providing 7*24 teleconsultation for people who are anxious about the coronavirus disease.
No matter in which country, the capacity of hospitals or clinics can rarely meet the needs of citizens who are living longer but less healthy. The widespread use of mobile phones enables the surge of telehealth that grants people more accessible, affordable and efficient health care services. Seniors will see doctors at home by phone call or in front of a screen, a personal health report will be generated and constantly updated, which can serve as reference for further medical evaluation and treatments in hospitals.
Gamification for behaviour and lifestyle changes
Many chronic conditions can be prevented or delayed by healthy behaviours. Even in very advanced years, physical activity and good nutrition can have powerful benefits on health and well-being. Nevertheless, it’s not easy to change people’s behaviours and lifestyles, that’s why wearables like Fitbit have been proved as a failure since people usually don’t wear it for more than six months.
One of the answers to this challenge is incentives through gamification. For instance, Chinese insurTech company ZhongAn has designed a product which enables users to redeem insurance coverage with the number of steps that they make every day, thus encouraging the users to walk more and stay active. HiNounou is also using Blockchain based utility token to reward and incentivize the seniors to take health check-ups every day.
Psychological care at stake.
Beyond physiological health, some seniors are suffering from mental health issues linked to loneliness, depression and deep grief, leading many of them are turning to suicide. To reduce their isolation and help them be more involved in the society, many countries have built elderly communities and even elderly universities where they can get a sense of belonging and comfort.
Besides, technologies can also help in various ways. Sensors can measure their sleep quality and degree stress, robots can chat and entertain with seniors, social media can connect friends of same interests with them, etc.
What will we need to think about more?
Having taken look into the above solutions that respond to the challenge of ageing society, there still remain many problems that we need to think about more. Here I just list some of them to start the brainstorming:
An integrated ecosystem rather than a fragmented one.
We notice that current health system tends to manage health issues in disconnected and fragmented ways that lack coordination across care providers, settings, time and location. The leading business models should be based on holistic solutions that can adapt to the challenges of many generations to come.
Data privacy and data exchange.
People feel strongly about the right to privacy of their personal health data. When it comes to technologies, the suspicion about who will be using the personal data and to what ends grows. How can we better protect the data and give transparency to data exchange? The use of Blockchain might be explored here.
Values from data mining
Although the application of big data analytics in healthcare fields is promising, it is critical to solve some challenges to dig out real value from data. An effort to improve the data quality of electronic health records is necessary. The issues of data inconsistency and instability, limitations of observational studies, and validation should be also solved.
About the Author
Charles Bark is the Founder & CEO of HiNounou, an AI-Blockchain preventative digital healthcare platform company on a mission to help empower the silver generation to Live Longer, Healthier and Happier, at home, and bring greater Peace of Mind to their families. HiNounou is located in Mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore, expanding in Korea, Japan and Europe. Charles is named himself by French president Macron as one of the Top 3 French entrepreneurs in AI in China.