Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Boomers Are Changing Healthcare … Is Your Practice Ready?

(Below is a special article for health care professionals.)

As healthcare providers, we strive toward patient-centred care as a model for practice – from hospital ambulatory care to inpatient stays and community-based primary care. Putting patients at the “centre” means empowering them to participate in decision-making about their own care.

The time has come to shift our thinking yet further, from “patient-centred” to “consumer-centric” care, as patients – or more accurately, healthcare consumers – increasingly expect high-quality, individualized service from healthcare providers.

The aging baby-boomer population is largely behind this transformation in patients’ attitudes and expectations. And the digital age is enabling these prosperous, driven healthcare consumers to seek unique solutions to health concerns.

the digital age is enabling healthcare consumers to seek unique solutions to health concerns

Our healthcare system has traditionally focused on sickness, or treating the signs and symptoms of acute and chronic disease. But the new healthcare consumer now makes decisions about health outside of physicians’ offices and hospitals. They are proactively engaged and questioning, and strive to maintain good health through preventive activities and predictive technologies (such as genetic testing); they want to make healthy choices for themselves and their loved ones. As boomers who are equipped with knowledge and disposable income increasingly fill our waiting rooms, we have an opportunity to adapt the way we deliver healthcare.

The recent explosion of digital information has made consumers “smarter,” or at the very least, more informed. Many patients consult Google before talking to their doctor, or may hear about a new drug or treatment via Twitter. “The Internet has revolutionized everything in our life, including health,” says Dr. John Crosby, a family physician in Cambridge, ON, and professor of medicine at the University of Toronto.

Boomers like to think that they will be middle-aged until they die

Boomers’ perceptions of aging are also revolutionizing their expectations for healthcare. It’s no longer about retreating quietly to the comfort of a cozy armchair. Boomers like to think that they will be middle-aged until they die. In response, the new consumer healthcare marketplace offers products, services and technologies that promise to support a vibrant and active lifestyle as we age, and this trend will accelerate for at least the next 10 years. And when it comes to accessing healthcare professionals, today’s consumers believe that since they can do their banking online, they should be able to email their pharmacist, book their medical appointments online and even have virtual consultations from home or the workplace. “Boomers, by their sheer numbers, have the power to drive market trends. They will change the delivery of healthcare,” Crosby says.

So, how can healthcare providers adapt? We can shift our mindset to embrace our boomer patients’ approach to “aging.” We can see them less as patients and more as healthcare consumers in a consumer-centric culture, where our role is to gain their trust and help guide their decisions.

Boomers want their healthcare providers to be part of the broader team that helps them stay well

Boomers want their healthcare providers to be part of the broader team – including friends, family members and social networks – that helps them stay well. That means promoting a collaborative dynamic with our patients while managing the increased expectations that come with their more proactive approach to healthcare. Perhaps you will find yourself discussing the potential benefits of non-traditional health products such as functional foods, alternative medicines, medication management apps and meditation devices. Innovative services, such as caregiver coaches and healthcare navigators, may also be on the agenda. Our patients want to be empowered with the knowledge, support and products to live well.

To promote a positive, open-minded therapeutic relationship with these new healthcare consumers, we can arm ourselves with tools and resources that promote a free exchange of information and ideas. Crosby believes that a resource such as YouAreUNLTD, with its mission to “change the conversation about aging,” is a good place to begin. “I always thought it was silly that there was a wall between us doctors and the patients,” Crosby says, adding that, “With YouAreUNLTD, everyone, healthcare professionals and consumers, gets the same messaging.”

And the message? Perhaps the best approach we can take with our market-savvy boomer patients is that while their bodies may have limits, their spirit never has to.

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Rose Patodia
Rose Patodia
Rose Patodia is a Toronto-based Board Certified Geriatric Pharmacist with a passion for promoting healthy aging through patient care and healthcare provider education.