Aging Trends, Gomers, and Some Very Big Ethical Questions

America is getting pretty gray these days. Almost 15 percent of the population, or one out of every 7 Americans, are over the age of 65.

No one notices this more than professionals working in healthcare. Age-related infirmities spare no one, and a quick glance around the waiting room these days looks pretty wrinkly and wizened.

The Baby Boomers, who have hit industries from colleges to car companies with the overwhelming economic impact of their concerted demand, are now knocking on the door of the health care industry. If you’re getting ready to get into the field of healthcare administration, get ready to find yourself on the front lines of dealing with an aging patient population poised to change the face of the industry.

What you see today is just the tip of the iceberg. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, we’re on the brink of a precipice for elder care. Between 2017 and 2030, the percentage of Americans over the age of 65 if expected to increase by 55 percent.

Health administration professionals are the folks who have been handed the hot potato of dealing with all the conflicting trends that are driven by an aging population.

No One Wants To Be A Healthcare Problem

Most of those folks don’t want to be out there haunting your waiting room. It’s not by choice.

This inelastic demand curve is something that has had investors and practice owners salivating for years as they’ve anticipated the coming wave of boomers in need of advanced medical services. More procedures means more money.

But it’s coming at a difficult moment in American healthcare. As a healthcare administrator, you’re going to find yourself short-staffed for handling all those graybeards coming in the door, and they’re going to find themselves strapped for cash to pay for your services. The result is going to be a lot of unhappy folks, looking to you for fixes.

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Persistent shortages in staffing and a national disagreement about who should receive care and how it should be paid for are hobbling the system. Cost increases, veiled billing practices, and decreasing quality of care are undermining public faith in the system.

Where Is The Money Going To Come From?

Where the money is coming from is a major concern for healthcare administration professionals.

This rapid increase in older patients isn’t just putting a strain on the systems providing direct care. It’s also threatening traditional mechanisms used to pay for that care.

Private insurance has been rocked by repeated threats to repeal the popular Obamacare program, which provides around $95 billion in subsidies to insurers each year. Coming at the same time as insurance premiums themselves are projected to go up by as much as 50 percent, this puts insurance companies and consumers both in a bad spot.

And Medicare and Medicaid, together worth another $1.2 trillion in healthcare spending, are threatened by potential future cuts as tax-cuts have resulted in ballooning deficits.

If you wanted to look on the bright side, these trends could help head off the increased service consumption that aging consumers are expected to use in health care. Of course, it will come at the cost of a lot of them dying.

Gomers Are Getting Older and More Challenging

It’s getting harder to keep older patients alive as it is. Although the origins of the term are a long-disputed point in American healthcare, in the popular vernacular “gomer” stands for “Get Out of My Emergency Room.” They are traditionally older, sicker, senile patients who suck the energy out of the doctors and nurses who are tasked with treating them.

Not only are there going to be more gomers walking in the door, but they’re going to be getting older. The CDC expects most Boomers to enjoy an average life expectancy into their late 70s.

That gives rise to newer and more difficult medical issues to solve, and more difficult means more expensive. A 2016 longitudinal study found that boomers are shifting more and more demand to specialty care due to multi-morbidity issues. Complex cases are more demanding and more expensive to treat.

On top of that, specialist training is longer and more involved—it’s an open question whether or not American medical schools can crank out enough physicians to meet the demand. Increasing anti-immigrant policies from the White House make it unlikely that the gap could be filled by professionals from overseas, either.

The rising gomerhood of boomers also gives rise to ethical questions. As medical technology is pushed to the limits aiming at an unachievable goal of immortality, medical administrators are left to raise the uncomfortable question: what is an extra six months of life worth to a 95-year-old patient who is already confined to bed?

Will Healthcare Administrators Find The Answers?

Analysis suggests that the healthcare industry isn’t moving fast enough to deal with all of these issues to be ready for the wave.

Value-based care is one solution that many practices and insurers are adopting. This incentive-based system aims to improve quality of care while reducing costs by rewarding physicians and practices who have positive outcomes, rather than blindly following fee-for-service models.

Many healthcare systems are also looking into home health strategies. These have been shown to greatly improve quality of life of patients while freeing up hospital beds and reduce risks of infection. Boomers, used to their creature comforts, may prefer at-home treatment strategies, and it may be more effective and economical to treat them there.

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Healthcare administrators are also getting creative when it comes to recruiting and retention. With high turnover rates contributing to much of the staffing problem, you’re going to have to find ways to hold onto staff other than just throwing money at them. Of course, you’re going to have to throw money at them, too, but efforts made to reform the traditionally difficult workplace environment is likely to pay dividends. In fact, improving workplace satisfaction for employees can also improve patient satisfaction levels, taking care of two problems at once.

If the field wasn’t challenging, it wouldn’t be fun. For administrators, it also makes for a more lucrative career. Raises for administrators have been outpacing those for doctors. If you can offer effective leadership in addressing the aging problem, you can expect to bring home a lot of money for your troubles.