By Neil Versel
The aging of tech-savvy baby boomers who want to retain control over their own lives will lead to greater adoption of wireless and mobile health products, helping to reposition healthcare around patients, a new report says. But advances may not be sustainable without a fundamental shift in the way healthcare is paid for and unless there is a greater social foundation to encourage wellness and prevention efforts, according to the MIT Enterprise Forum of the Northwest (MITEF NW).
The group, one of 27 chapters of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology organization supporting technology entrepreneurs worldwide, released the report this week as a precursor to its Jan. 19 event in Seattle, called “Boomers, Technology & Health: Consumers Taking Charge!” MITEF NW also seeks to position Washington and Oregon as leaders in “personal connected health.”
“The boomers have every reason to be one of the primary drivers of connected health,” lead report author Michael Gallelli told MobiHealthNews. Compared to previous generations that have made it to midlife, the 78 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964—the first of whom turn 65 this year—are more affluent, independent and innovative. “They don’t want to give up control of their lives,” he said.
Plus, nearly 60 percent of boomers have been caring for aging relatives for at least the last three years, the report says, citing a Humana estimate.
A “significant piece” of connected health is online and mobile social networking to encourage people to live healthier lives and provide much-needed emotional support, according to Gallelli. “The best way changes are made are usually peer-driven,” he said.
This growth in connected health thanks to the aging population and soaring healthcare costs coupled with rapid adoption of mobile technologies will create what Gallelli called an “explosion of personal data,” creating numerous opportunities for entrepreneurs. “For entrepreneurs, the opportunities lie between the edges of the established healthcare industry and consumer and web mobile technology,” the report states.
The Pacific Northwest is well positioned to become a hub of activity in this area because it is home to many innovative universities, technologically advanced healthcare organizations, a strong business community and leading nonprofits with an interest in health issues, notably the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Still, Gallelli called the report rather cautious in that it discusses the many barriers to connected health. He said it's “not realistic” for entrepreneurs to come up with an idea then expect to cash out a couple of years later, as they may have done during the dot-com boom.
Among the obstacles to wide adoption of connected health is the uncertainty over how home healthcare devices and smartphone apps will be regulated. And then there is the question of reimbursement. “Under long-standing payer models, consumer expectation is that insurance picks up the tab for medical testing and treatment costs. Until payers embrace covering remote or mobile monitoring costs, in whole or part, new businesses will be asking care providers and/or end users to directly bear the fees for new products and services,” the report states.
However, Gallelli said consumers may find that it more sense to pay a few hundred dollars a month to provide electronic health monitoring services for elderly parents in their homes than to shell out thousands for the less-inviting environment of a nursing home.