Revolutionizing a New Standard of Care for Seniors

Inspired by the iconic setting where our Founding Fathers led America’s fight for independence, the d.health Summit brought together leaders across several industries and disciplines to harness that same revolutionary spirit to meet the needs of aging Americans. At the day’s conclusion, an overwhelming consensus was reached — the time for action is now.

By Shelley Lyford | Aug 7, 2018

Shelley Lyford is the President of West Health, a family of nonprofit organizations committed to enabling seniors to age successfully with affordable, quality healthcare.

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When West Health and the University of Rochester were selecting the location for the 4th annual d.health Summit, we could think of no better place to frame the aptly titled session, “America’s Next Revolution: Beyond Healthcare to Successful Aging,” than Boston, one of the oldest cities in the United States and the birthplace of the American Revolution.

Inspired by the iconic setting where our Founding Fathers led America’s fight for independence, the summit brought together entrepreneurs, healthcare leaders, policy experts and key stakeholders among others to harness that same revolutionary spirit to meet the needs of aging Americans. At the day’s conclusion, an overwhelming consensus was reached — the time for action is now. Here’s why:

The United States is in the midst of one of the most significant demographic shifts in history, one that presents enormous challenges to successful aging in America. More than 10,000 Americans are turning 65 every day, and by 2030, one-fifth of the population will be 65 or older. Our current healthcare system isn’t scaled or structured to serve the seniors of today, much less the seniors of tomorrow.

Further exacerbating the perilous situation, America’s social and economic safety net, dating back to the New Deal era, is badly frayed. Medicare and Social Security, chronically underfunded and under new financial pressure from the recent tax cuts, are now scheduled to run out of money in 2026 and 2032, respectively. Meanwhile, employers are paying a smaller percentage of employee health insurance premiums each year, and the pensions that seniors used to rely on to fund their retirements have become a relic of the past. Tragically, it’s the oldest and most vulnerable among us who are paying the price – namely, seniors living at or below the poverty line.

A recent West Health-sponsored survey revealed that 40% of Americans are more anxious about the medical bills from a serious illness than the illness itself! Think about that for a moment. What kind of country have we become when medical bills are scarier than life-threatening disease? Perhaps it’s a country that’s ready for a revolution in healthcare for the elderly.

And believe me, that is what we need. Because, let’s face it, if we’re not in our sixties yet, we will be soon. And we’re likely to spend many more years in old age than our parents or grandparents did — thanks to recent medical advances which have greatly extended life expectancy.

But longevity itself isn’t the goal. What all of us wants is quality of life in our old age – what West Health calls Successful Aging. To enable successful aging, we need to reexamine and rethink the ways we deliver care, leverage technology, and pay for services, factors that drive practice and policy. And we need to reframe the way we think about aging itself. What seniors desperately need — and what we must dedicate ourselves to — is nothing less than a New Standard of Care for Successful Aging.

Every revolution — including the healthcare revolution — requires a declaration of principles. In this spirit, I’m going to declare three non-negotiable Actions for Successful Aging:

1: Start with What Seniors Want
Sounds self-evident, doesn’t it? But all too often, systems are designed to serve the interests of providers, insurers, or health systems – rather than seniors.
Whether we’re designing a senior dental clinic or a geriatric emergency department, West Health always begins by asking seniors and their caregivers what’s most important to them. And what they overwhelmingly express is a desire to age in place and have services easily accessible to where they live.

Enabling successful aging goes beyond delivering healthcare, and well beyond the four walls of a hospital. What seniors want and need is life care that encompasses community supports, nutrition and wellness, senior-friendly transportation, and other social services that enrich the aging experience. It’s time we expand the horizons of healthcare to meet seniors where they live… to deliver integrated and coordinated care when and where they need it.

2: Tailor Technology to Serve Seniors
Healthcare technology is crucial to enabling seniors to age in place with autonomy and independence – whether through wearable medical alerts, telehealth, tech-assisted meal delivery, robots, or mobile emergency care units. And, of course, biotechnology defines the cutting edge of innovative therapies to improve quality of life and longevity. I challenge technologists to focus their energies on serving the needs of seniors, including creating technology that will connect the housebound elderly to the wider community.

We also have to lower the cost of prescription drugs. New and improved medications are a blessing – for those who can afford them. For everyone else, they’re a taunting reminder of the health disparities that mirror the income disparities in this country.

3: Empower Seniors with Affordable and Accessible Healthcare
Healthcare has simply become unaffordable for most Americans. We have to move quickly to a value-based system of care and payment— particularly for seniors, who often have the highest medical needs and the most limited financial resources. Far too many seniors have to choose each month whether to use their limited resources to pay for food, housing, or medicine.

No matter how innovative our new delivery systems or technologies may be, they are only going to add value for seniors if they are more cost-efficient than current models, and if they deliver better outcomes.

The Healthcare Revolution has begun. It calls for bold, coordinated action. It’s a revolution that is driven by technology and innovation. It demands inspired leadership and dynamic partnerships, entrepreneurial zeal and outrageous acts of reinvention. And it must continue to be led by visionaries in medicine, science, business, and philanthropy – visionaries like all of us!

Every revolution involves disruption. And with disruption, comes opportunity: the opportunity to create new models, new systems — and a new standard of care. Let’s seize this opportunity to make successful aging a reality for seniors today, and for the generations to come.

@dhealth2018

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