Health IT, telehealth might be only way to save financial crisis of U.S. healthcare

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ORLANDO—Healthcare technologies and telehealth are the only plausible solutions to overcoming the future financial healthcare crisis due to the aging population in the United States, which may peak by 2020, according to John Hansmann of Intermountain Healthcare, a keynote speaker at the 2008 HIMSS conference on Sunday evening.

John Hansmann, regional manager of management engineering at Intermountain and HIMSS board member, predicted that the U.S. population is expected to reach 336 million by 2020, and 420 million by 2050. More importantly than the rising population, Hansmann pointed to the aging population. By 2020, 54.6 million of the U.S. population will be older than 65, which is an increase of 14 million from 2010.

“As we’re getting older, we’re also living a lot longer, and those people tend to use a lot more resources than the rest of us. They are no longer in the workforce, so how are we going to take care of these people?” Hansmann asked.

Hansmann told Health Imaging News that as the population ages, and if the healthcare industry remains the same, “we are headed towards a perfect storm, and how will we deal with all these people, for whom we don’t have the workforce or the funding to support?”

At the same time, Hansmann said that while the U.S. spends more on healthcare than any other nation, the World Health Organization ranked its performance 37th as an overall health system. He also said that Medicare funds will be exhausted, and the organization will go bankrupt by 2018. By 2020, healthcare spending will consume about 20 percent of the GDP.

Currently, 47 million Americans are uninsured, which is expected to rise to 53 million by 2020. “We have a societal issue that we are going to need to address,” Hansmann said

He predicted that “we, who are insured, are also going to see some serious increases in healthcare costs.” In the United States, a 1 percent increase in healthcare costs leads to 300,000 more uninsured people.

He also pointed to future staffing issues in the medical industry because one out of three U.S. practicing physicians is more than 55 years of age, and many of them are expected to retire in the next 10 or 15 years. Hansmann said that a number of studies suggest that the United States will be short anywhere from 24,000 to 200,000 physicians by 2020.

Hansmann acknowledged that those numbers display a huge range, and “we need to be more specific about how short we are going to be on physicians, but overall, most clinical and technical healthcare professionals are all not replacing themselves.”

Hansmann told Health Imaging News that while the population is aging, we are not reproducing at the same rates, which will have two effects. “In the future, there will be fewer people to pass on their knowledge of the [healthcare] workforce, which will produce a brain drain. Also, we won’t have anyone to take care of that population. So, we will need to get much more creative, which is where medical technologies and telehealth comes into play.” 

Consumerism, genomics, regenerative medicine and information technology will have the greatest impact on the future healthcare, according to Hansmann.

He said that consumers will play a larger role, and “this powerful force will change the way healthcare is delivered, managed and received. Consumers will assume much greater financial oversight and responsibility for their care…[and] personal health management.”

To overcome some of the financial challenges that are facing the United States, he provided examples of medical technologies emerging in healthcare: prevention, imaging, diagnostics, therapeutics and pharmaceutical research.

As a result, Hansmann predicted that by 2020, the first point of contact with healthcare will be through a virtual cyber-physician via a television.

He said that current technologies will continue to evolve and be integrated in the medical industry, such as cell phones, Ipods, PDAs/mobile computing, barcodes, RFIDs, blogs, EMRs and embedded microprocessor technology for hospital and home use.

“EMR adoption is still very, very low, and we obviously have to get to stage six and seven for those who have started the adoption process,” he lamented.

However, with these technologies, Hansmann predicted that consumers will be able “to manage their healthcare, and we, in healthcare, need to figure out how to maintain and support those technologies.” The interoperability issue also will be forced by the consumer as