It’s known as the “Silver Tsunami”: a metaphor for the aging population. Some 40 million additional Medicare-aged patients are expected to flood the American health care system, putting a strain on an already-troubled system struggling to keep up with current demand. Experts believe telehealth and remote care will prove invaluable in providing care to this aging population while helping to keep costs down.
Telehealth: A Solution for the “Silver Tsunami”
Telehealth is hardly new. It’s been around since at least 1993 but has only recently begun to achieve more widespread adoption as technology has “caught up” to the concept and turned many of its potential benefits into a reality. At the same time, shifts in health care regulations and reimbursements have helped paved the way toward more mainstream use.
Grant Chamberlain, managing director in corporate finance health care for privately-held investment banking firm Ziegler and a director at ATA (American Telemedicine Association), has been focusing on telehealth investments for years. He has served as an advisor for several major health systems such as Baylor Health and Cedars-Sinai and is a board member for the MAVEN Project, a nonprofit whose mission is to deliver health care to underserved populations across the U.S. He believes that acceptance and adoption of telecare are long overdue – but we still have a long way to go before its full potential is realized.
“I think we’re now broadly in the middle innings, the fourth or fifth inning, of the evolution of a 30-year sector,” he says. But regarding the senior population, “we’re probably only in the first or second innings of adoption and utility of solutions in that space.”
While advances in tele-stroke and tele-ICU care are benefitting seniors, the fastest-growing sectors involve behavioral health and tele-psych; these help both aging patients and younger ones. Chamberlain believes the next generation of successful virtual companies “will be those that understand the crucial marriage between chronic care management, behavioral health and social determinants.”
Seniors will utilize telehealth in multiple ways and places. Voice-activated devices (think Amazon’s Alexa) and Bluetooth-enabled monitoring tools will make home use easier, while long-term care and skilled nursing facilities will be able to deliver after-hour care without the expense of paying for additional staff.
Large health systems have already adopted telemedicine and demonstrated its effectiveness in solving problems while delivering quality care at a low cost, even when clinical resources are limited. As Baby Boomers continue to age, telemedicine – no longer in its infancy – will become even more mainstream. Chamberlain says, “Given the scarcity of clinical resources that are available – and certainly with the impending silver tsunami – we’re going to need everybody managing and dealing with the preponderance of these chronic care elements in the most efficient possible way. That’s…why I think telehealth is now building so much momentum.”