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Healthcare Industry Comes to Grips With Old Age

Providers seek new partners – including financial services – to provide better care for a vulnerable population.

By Sue Hermann | March 3, 2020

When it comes to aging, the Irish writer Oscar Wilde may have said it best: “With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.”

That maxim describes the current state of American healthcare: Our aging population requires more and higher-cost care, while the industry tries to wise up to this new reality.

The number of Americans age 65 or older will almost double in the next 40 years, making up one quarter of the U.S. population. A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services found:

  • Half of adults age 65+ will need a high level of care at some point
  • Three-quarters of older adults with needs live at home
  • Of the older adults living at home, nearly two-thirds with long-term care needs receive all their help from unpaid family and friends.

“Older adults and their caregivers are facing the reality of expensive and uncoordinated medical care,” said Anne Tumlinson, founder of ATI, a Washington, DC-based research and advisory services firm working to reform health and long-term care delivery and financing for frail and vulnerable older adults.

“Because of the lack of in-home technology and the fact that single-family dwellings are typically unsuited for frailty, many seniors can’t find the care they need,” Tumlinson said at a recent BOK Financial Healthcare Banking Summit on trends within the healthcare industry.

“We know that the number of older adults with chronic conditions or impairment – cognitive or functional – is growing; we also know that patients requiring complex care benefit most from flexible, individualized care,” said Tumlinson. “The healthcare industry is evolving to meet those needs and partners from outside the industry will need to evolve along with it.”

Those partners include banks, said by Jim Thompson, director of senior housing investments for BOK Financial. Bankers need to identify elder health care operators that are thriving in the sector and provide banking services to support their growth.

“Elder care is experiencing the fastest, most significant change that we’ve seen in decades,” he said. "Senior housing and care operators are partnering with physician groups and other providers – or even purchasing them outright. The most forward-thinking operators are taking on the financial risk for the care provided to these high-cost patients.”

“The healthcare industry is putting a greater focus on efficiency through care management, home-based primary care enabled by technology and by reducing the number of rehospitalizations, which are often viewed as a measure of the quality of care in a healthcare system and a significant driver of costs,” said Tumlinson.

To combat costs and improve care, more providers are developing an integrated approach to serving high-cost patients – often seniors with chronic conditions.

“Our senior care customers are no longer operating in a silo,” Thompson said. “They are incorporating other providers – particularly physician groups – within the post-acute continuum to ensure the best quality of care. We’ve had to change our understanding of which models will be successful operationally in order to be a better business partner in helping them provide quality care to older adults.”