It’s no secret that people are living longer. This is a great thing. The problem however is that as populations age, they have a higher need for healthcare that is accessible and affordable.
According to the Canadian Medical Association, Canada’s senior population will swell from 16.9 percent of the entire population to around 21 percent by the year 2028. Conversely, the federal share of healthcare funding to provinces and territories will fall below 20 percent by 2026.
These numbers don’t paint a prosperous – or healthy – picture, and it’s our aging populations who will bear a large brunt of this. We’ve already seen the outcome of poor healthcare to seniors during the COVID-19 pandemic. We simply can’t go back to that. We need a solution.
In this article, we’ll unpack what the so-called ‘Silver Tsunami’ is, how it’s affecting our healthcare systems and conversely, how seniors are affected by a broken healthcare system. And finally, we’ll work towards a solution that is accessible and equitable to all.
Let’s get started.
What is the ‘Silver Tsunami’ and How is it Affecting Healthcare Systems?
Like the majority of the developed world, Canada’s population is aging, and with that aging population comes a slew of both chronic and acute healthcare concerns.
As populations age, medical issues arise such as:
- Cardiac issues
- Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
- Mood and anxiety disorders
- Heart failure
These chronic and acute medical issues put a significant strain on the cost of healthcare in our country, and around the world. In fact, the average per-person healthcare cost for Canadians under the age of 64 is less than $2,700. For aged 65 and above, that cost swells to around $12,000 per person. That’s over four times the average cost of healthcare per person.
This inflated cost, along with other structural costs such as nursing homes and long-term care homes, is part of a phenomenon known as the Silver Tsunami.
The Silver Tsunami is the massive increase in an aging population that brings with it a plethora of challenges for our healthcare system.
We want our senior citizens to receive the best care possible, but with the systems we have in place – overburdened hospitals, clinics, and family physicians – and the ongoing slashing of public funding, these vulnerable populations are left exposed.
And that simply creates even more problems.
What is the Cost of Not Addressing This Problem?
We’ve already had a horrifying glimpse of what not addressing this problem will cost us. During the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns, the underlying problems with chronically underserved, underfunded, and short-staffed long-term care homes came to stark light.
There is both a monetary cost and a social cost to not addressing the problem of lack of appropriate healthcare for our aging populations.
It’s no secret that untreated chronic issues only beget more healthcare issues. An absence of age-friendly communities, services, and structures leaves seniors in precarious positions of falls, injuries, poor diet and medications/treatment adherence, isolation, and decline in mental health. This then feeds back into an already overburdened healthcare system where these individuals need care immediately, presenting to Emergency Departments (EDs) or emergency clinics.
This is for the most part, avoidable.
What is the most difficult to measure is the social cost of not addressing the healthcare crisis for our seniors. Loss of quality of life creates precarious mental health conditions, families struggle to support their loved ones, creating even more burden on sandwich generations, and thus, resulting in tangential healthcare concerns for family members.
Not addressing this issue creates community-wide crises. It’s time for a change.
What Do Our Healthcare System and Our Seniors Need?
We need solutions that make it easier for seniors to access healthcare services from anywhere. Canada’s rural population is aging faster than its urban and suburban counterparts. Nearly 20 percent of seniors in Canada live in rural areas and small towns where access to healthcare services can be limited. Lack of healthcare options often results in seniors visiting the nearest ED seeking treatment for conditions that would be better treated elsewhere, like in a doctor’s office or clinic. A 2014 study from CIHI found that 12 percent of patients visting EDs for non-urgent, or ‘family-practice’ conditions were patients aged 85 and older.
Similarily, seniors living in LTC facilities regularly end up in the ED for potentially preventable conditions, or conditions that would be better treated elsewhere. According to CIHI, in 2013–2014, 1 in 3 ED visits by seniors in LTC was potentially avoidable.
This means that healthcare services are not being utilized effectively, and can result in significant system-wide inefficiencies, errors, and ultimately, misdiagnosis, or individuals simply not adhering to treatment or not understanding their conditions or treatment.
The good news is that in a global survey of newer healthcare professionals, 81 percent believe that technology has the power to help alleviate many of our healthcare system’s issues.
These issues include:
- Workload reduction
- Reduction in error rates
- Accessing patients, like seniors, who may not have access to the healthcare they need
Merging healthcare with digital technology, like a Digital Front Door, is the way forward, so we can help all patients receive the care they need, when they need it.
Here’s how that can happen.
Preparing Our Healthcare System for the Silver Tsunami
Our healthcare system needs a solution, and fast. We can’t afford to leave our seniors behind in providing quality healthcare.
Creating a more streamlined approach throughout the entire healthcare funnel is the way forward. This solution needs to be accessible, virtual, dynamic, and one that addresses overburdened healthcare providers while still giving seniors the ability to take control of their healthcare.
The solution is a digital one.
Patients already have access to digital tools – such as laptops, tablets, and mobile phones – giving them the ability to have their healthcare tailored to exactly what they need.
Tools like Digital Front Door can help alleviate the pressure of the aging population on our healthcare system. Shifting healthcare to digital platforms removes redundancies, barriers, and helps address problems before they become worse for everyone.
Using digital tools help ease the burden on healthcare by:
- Providing reliable information to patients
- Streamlining processes
- Reducing administrative burden
- Improving patient virtual bedside care
- Improving seniors’ confidence in the healthcare they receive
- Improving mental health for both seniors and clinicians
Digital solutions remove the unnecessary burdens caused by outdated processes, which are no longer serving our populations or our clinicians. This can ultimately lead to improved stress loads on our clinicians and help bolster our healthcare system across the board.
Digital Healthcare Solutions are the Way Forward
Preparing our healthcare system for the influx of an aging population takes nuance and innovation – qualities that digital solutions provide.
Because digital solutions are the primary point of entrance for patients to healthcare, seniors can access a wide array of services, helping streamline them to the right provider or treatment, with minimal errors and a much lower cost to the system.
That’s what Digital Front Door can provide.
“Digital Front Door is an omni-channel engagement strategy that combines the tools and technology needed to engage and assist patients at every touchpoint of their healthcare journey.”
Solutions like Digital Front Door allow patients to:
- Access healthcare information through website portals
- Access chat boxes that help funnel them to the right healthcare provider
- Use mobile applications for ease of access
- Choose voice and/or phone chat options
- Access virtual healthcare, anywhere, anytime
- Search directories of treatment providers
- Receive eReferrals from home
- Access appropriate care pathways, including physicians, nurses, and pharmacists
Digital solutions allow aging populations freedom of access. With this information, both clinicians and patients are better equipped with next steps. Importantly, clinicians who use digital solutions can access seniors who may not have access to transportation or may find leaving the house a challenge.
All of these healthcare processes are automated with digital solutions, which ensures that information is up-to-date, accurate, and easily accessed by all relevant treatment providers. This helps protect seniors with complex medical histories, so they can get the right healthcare, easing the burden for everyone.
It’s clear that the way forward through these challenging times is to embrace digital healthcare. With tools like Digital Front Door, the solutions are right at our fingertips.
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