In the same way that musicians, toymakers, and television producers took advantage of the “baby boom” in the 1950s and 1960s, creating a golden age of entertainment for those born between 1946 and 1964, the time has come for senior care digital technology to jump on the bandwagon of opportunity. With 10,000 baby boomers turning age 65 each day until 2030, the sheer volume of consumers alone is attention grabbing. But when you add to those numbers the fact that this generation is entering old age with more chronic illness than previous generations, the situation is a call for innovation.
For example, 55% more boomers have diabetes and 25% more are obese as compared to the previous generation. The good news is that they have not lost interest in gadgets. In the same way that they adapted to the electronics and novelties of their youth—such as transistor radios, Easy-Bake Ovens, View-Masters, and Polaroid cameras—Internet and smartphone usage is on the rise among the elderly.
“When I’m sixty-four”
In 2014, venture capital aimed at senior care represented only 0.7% of total investment dollars. But by 2018, a shift to on-demand and at-home care services resulted in $1.27 billion in investment, which included $291 million to a single telehealth company. By the end of 2019, digital health technology serving out-of-hospital settings will increase by 30%, and by 2020, an estimated $20 billion will have been invested in digital health for seniors.
Clearly, investors are taking notice of the opportunity for digitals tools that empower this exploding population of older Americans to live independently while reducing healthcare costs. Similarly, more entrepreneurs are shifting their focus to technologies that address this space, including remote monitoring, patient and caregiver engagement, and patient-centric care coordination apps.
“I want my Wi-Fi!”
Baby boomers progressed from “I want my Maypo!” to “I want my MTV!” to “I want my Wi-Fi!” Smartphone ownership among seniors swelled from just 18% in 2013 to 42% in 2017. Their internet use also increased during those four years to 51%. Over two thirds of people aged 65 and over use the internet, with tablets being the favored device among the more educated and wealthy seniors. And nearly as many Americans over 65 use wearable devices to track fitness, heart rate, and blood pressure, as Americans under 65.
“Hope I die before I get old”
The Who’s Roger Daltrey (who turns 75 this year) sang these lyrics from “My Generation” at Woodstock. Possibly more than any other group of young people, the boomers had difficulty imaging themselves getting old. Planning for a long life was not high on everyone’s priority list in a time of Vietnam, higher than ever drug overdoses, and an underlying uncertainty about the future.
However, average lifespans have increased, from age 66 in the 1960s to age 78 today. Boomers have conceded to getting old, but they do not want to spend their final years in a nursing home or a medically assisted facility. It’s no surprise that the number of skilled nursing facilities in the United States has slowly declined over the last 10 years. And legislators are paying attention to the cost burden of “reactive” care, rather than proactive, preventative care for this population. In 2016, Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act, containing many provisions that are paving the way for health tech innovation in the home healthcare space, such as:
Requiring electronic visit verification (EVV) for home care.
Expanded reimbursement for wearables and other cost-effective devices for managing chronic conditions
Development of tech-enabled home care models to keep patients out of the hospital by many Medicare Advantage plans.
“You say you want a revolution”
With companies like Massachusetts-based Devoted Health, a digital healthcare insurance marketplace for seniors, attracting $300 million in a Series B funding round, and San Francisco–based Honor, an in-home care coordination platform, bringing in $115 million in total funding, the senior care industry is experiencing the start of major disruption. And that is a good thing, because boomers would expect nothing less than a revolution in their golden years.