Senior care is a vital aspect of healthcare in Arizona that presents many potential problems. Overall, the eldercare industry in the United States is facing a shortage of caregivers which is projected to worsen as baby boomers enter their senior years. An NASEM research report noted in 2015 that there were seven potential caregivers for every person over the age of 80. However, by 2030 there will be only four caregivers per person over 80.
Arizona has a larger elderly population than most states, with 22% of our citizens age 65 or older. The state is also facing a shortage of primary care doctors, ranking 44th in total active primary-care physicians, despite being the 14th largest state by population, with one of the fastest growing populations in the nation.
This shortage continues to worsen due to a lack of in-state medical students. Phoenix currently has only 30% of the medical students compared to a market like Philadelphia, despite Phoenix having a growing and larger overall population.
So, how can the healthcare community in Arizona improve senior care for our growing elderly population, without overloading the state’s dwindling provider population?
Here are three ways the Arizona healthcare community can improve overall healthcare for our seniors:
1. Increase access and lower costs for prescription drugs.
Prescription drug sales make up a big chunk of healthcare spending in the United States, accounting for 10% of total healthcare costs in 2015. Prescription drug costs represent a burden for seniors, often accounting for high out-of-pocket costs. National Statistics show that the older one gets, the more they spend on prescription drugs. Seniors are often left to pay one-third or more of the out-of-pocket expenses. These barriers to life-saving drugs increase overall healthcare costs; especially if patients are unable to pay for their prescribed medications.
In my view, we must ensure seniors can access their prescriptions as needed. We must continue to find solutions that lower pharma costs for seniors. In Arizona, pharmacies are not easily accessible by public transportation for most of our senior citizens. Local companies like LitonRx are helping to tackle this problem by providing a modern, digital pharmacy that provides free same-day delivery of medications and aggressively low pricing. Models like this will play a big part in improving senior care over the next decade, as this type of company facilities delivery and lowers drug costs.
2. Improve communication around medical care.
The use of personal care navigators has emerged as a new, helpful trend in healthcare. In this model, non-medical professionals act as a proxy to help seniors navigate their care options, working with them to book appointments, request fulfilling prescriptions and set-up telehealth interactions all with the goal of making it easier for seniors to get the care they need. Personal care navigators are often individually assigned to seniors giving them improved communication around their healthcare and a better understanding of their medical options. As a result of their increased involvement in senior care, health outcomes are more likely to improve.
Emerging tech-enabled health options, like healthcare web and mobile apps and easy-to-use telehealth (remote diagnosis and treatment of patients) are reimagining how care is delivered. Care navigators often explain and help seniors to use the various technologies to their benefit, helping to bridge their understanding gap and ensuring Arizona seniors get the best and most convenient care available.
Technology also helps physicians to maximize their time, enabling them to spend it on the important tasks vital to a person’s health and less on paperwork and other administrative functions. Care navigators can answer administrative and general questions that previously were performed by physicians. A care navigator can also be a bridge between the patient and the physician. They are trained to know the right questions to ask in an organized fashion, maximizing the time physicians spend on quality of care and guiding the patient to much-needed answers before they meet with their doctor.
3. Streamlined use of telehealth and remote patient monitoring.
Telehealth has been around for a number of years, but only recently did it become an integral tool in the delivery of healthcare. Many initially saw telehealth options as a negative for seniors due to struggles with utilization of the technology. However, newer telehealth and telemedicine platforms have simplified the user experience to a point where little to no technology training is now needed. An AARP study found that 77% of older adults have a smartphone, so the adoption of these solutions coupled with an increase in interest amongst seniors to receive care whenever and wherever they are has dramatically increased usage.
Ultimately, telehealth allows for easier and more frequent visits with physicians – a key element in building a relationship and improving the quality of care delivered. We must arm both patients and providers with information that is easily accessible. This is now achieved through a simple, streamlined approach.
Another important component of telehealth is remote patient monitoring, which has been found to reduce hospital admissions and ER visits while also improving health outcomes. Remote patient monitoring includes anything that gathers information about patients outside of a clinical setting, including blood pressure cuffs, EKGs, oxygen monitoring, etc. This technology, in turn, reduces healthcare costs for all who are involved – payers, patients and practitioners.
Supporting our senior population is vital for Arizona’s healthcare system. The answer to how we properly support our senior population lies in our ability to provide free delivery and lower prices for prescription drugs, improved access to care and two-way technology enabled communication through the use of telehealth and telemedicine, and implementation of health improving technologies like remote patient monitoring. While we always need to be working to increase the number of physicians in our state, we also must implement technology that allows physicians to efficiently deliver care which ultimately, improves the lives of Arizona seniors.