Essential Insights contributor, healthcare writer
Director, Strategic Intelligence and Analytics
Chief Medical Officer, Cardinal Health
Editor's Note: This is the third article in a three-part series looking at different generations of patients (Millennials, Gen Xers, and Boomers) and how healthcare organizations can tailor their services to meet their unique characteristics.
When the oldest of the Baby Boomers were in their 60s, few within the healthcare sector seemed outwardly concerned about what was sure to come. The aging Boomer population, one industry analyst told Hospital & Health Networks in 2014, was "the most powerful force operating in our health system right now." The problem, he warned, was that healthcare reform had led everyone to look in the opposite direction. "People aren't paying much attention," he said.
Three years later, the reform debate continues, but now the oldest of the Boomers are turning 70—and healthcare providers are starting to take notice. This "silver tsunami" includes nearly 75 million people currently between the ages of 53 and 71.
So given that the Boomer demographic will have more clout than ever before—how should healthcare organizations tailor their services to better suit their growing needs?
According to a report by the Pew Research Center, roughly 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 every day, making them Medicare eligible.
As those approximately 75 million Boomers turn 65, they will grow the Medicare-eligible cohort from 13.1 percent of the population in 2010 to 20.3 percent in 2030. The Advisory Board emphasized that with this shift, Medicare patients will comprise more than half of inpatient volumes and be the primary source of volume growth. So it will be imperative that healthcare organizations help Medicare beneficiaries understand their coverage and options.
"It's impossible to ignore Boomers anymore," said Kimberly Cromer, director of strategic intelligence and analytics at Cardinal Health. "This generation is like a wave that never stops coming. And the older they get, the more attention they're going to require."
Health systems and physician offices can help patients understand which services may or may not be covered under Medicare Part A (hospital insurance), Part B (medical coverage), or Part C (supplemental coverage through Medicare Advantage plans administered by private insurance companies).
In fact, it's now required by law that hospitals tell Medicare patients when care is "observation only." That's because unless their care falls under a new Medicare bundled-payment category, observation patients pay a share of the cost of each test, treatment or other services.
Pharmacists can also play an important role. "Community pharmacists are ideally suited to help beneficiaries understand their Medicare prescription drug plan [Part D] options and select the one that best meets their needs," said Elie Bahou, Pharm.D., vice president of Managed Care and Business Development at Cardinal Health. (Cardinal Health offers resources for Medicare Open Enrollment at cardinalhealth.com/openenrollment).
The majority of Boomers, Cromer noted, are relatively good with technology—and expect their providers to be technologically adept, too. "It's not like they've never heard of the Internet. They're online, they're texting and using Facebook, and many are already using patient portals, or using tools like telehealth when they're available and convenient," she said.
A 2016 Pew Research survey found that 67 percent of adults ages 65 and older go online, while 42 percent own smartphones and 34 percent use social media. The numbers are higher among more affluent and educated seniors, and among younger Boomers. For example, 83 percent of Baby Boomers ages 59 and younger go online, as do 76 percent of Boomers ages 60-69.
And other studies and surveys support the Pew findings: Among other things, researchers have found that Boomers who go online to research medications (51 percent), would be "open to virtual treatment options" (57 percent), and would "choose a primary care provider who offers virtual treatment over one who does not" (51 percent).
Still, Cromer said, don't assume that every tech-savvy Boomer will readily embrace digital health. Boomers are more brand loyal than other generations, she noted, so they tend to stick with the provider they know as long as they're happy with the care they receive.
Boomers, as a generation, are predicted to be less healthy in older age than their parents. Sixty-two percent currently suffer from at least one obesity related condition, and as they age, their comorbidities and other complications will only increase.
Shaden Marzouk, MD, MBA, chief medical officer with Cardinal Health and a former practicing neurosurgeon specializing in spine surgery, said she factored in Boomer patients' comorbidities into the decisions she made around their treatment. However, she said most older patients wanted the same thing: to be pain free, walk and stand with ease, and do activities they like again.
Boomers are even getting more knee and hip replacements and rotator cuff surgeries to help them stay active later in life. According to the Advisory Board, Boomers are expected to boost the number of knee replacements by 800 percent by 2030.
In a lot of ways, Boomers are similar to the younger generations, including Gen X and the Millennials. "Baby Boomers don't tend to think of themselves as getting old," Cromer said. "And in a lot of ways they're similar to the younger generations." Some Boomers are still raising children, she added, while others are responsible for caring for their own parents. Many, despite reaching retirement age, are still working (or plan to work) into their 70s.
Healthcare organizations should certainly tailor the patient experience they offer to meet the unique characteristics of Millennials, Gen Xers and Boomers. But "age is just one component of engaging patients," Marzouk said. "The most important thing we need to focus on as providers is to produce good outcomes for patients."