How the US can prepare healthcare systems for the aging population

Fears of the potential costs of reform may be holding back developed countries' efforts to prepare for the onslaught of aging patients, says the head of an international group examining the impact of an aging population on global health systems.

While many countries are "taking steps to organize and provide care and services differently," Rene Amalberti, head of the Dublin-based Innovation Group of the International Society for Quality in Health Care, a "perception that change will be costly may be one factor that is inhibiting progress."

The group, in a paper published in the International Journal for Quality in Health Care, explores insights gained from countries including Canada, Japan and Switzerland that are already adapting to their graying populations. In an announcement, the group says those steps include:

  • Shifting spending away from hospital beds to community healthcare and daycare
  • Reorganizing into "communities of physicians" to better coordinate care and reduce costs

Countries including France, Denmark, Norway, Australia, Ireland and the United Kingdom seem to be responding more slowly, according to the announcement. In a decade their populations will be as aged as those in Canada, Japan and Switzerland, the group said.

The number of people 60 and older worldwide will outnumber children younger than 5 by 2020, according to 2014 research published in The Lancet. By 2050 the 60-plus population will number 2 billion, up from 841 million today.  Eight out of 10 will live in low- and moderate-income countries.

"In rich and poor countries alike, the real challenge is to balance the needs of the present with those of preparing for the future," according to the Innovation Group announcement.

In the U.S., nearly 70 percent of hospital executives think the aging population will force hospitals to incorporate end-of-life care into the traditional continuum of care, a survey by Prudential Retirement found. The executives overwhelmingly agreed they would have to change their business models to survive, FierceHealthFinance reported.

The aging population along with population growth means the country also will need another 52,000 primary care physicians (PCPs) by 2025, FierceHealthcare previously reported. The aging population accounts for 10,000 of the needed PCPs.

To learn more:
- read the announcement
- here's the abstract