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Health Care: 8 Ways Baby Boomers Are Transforming The System

First Posted: 02/06/2012 7:41 am Updated: 05/14/2012 12:31 pm

Every day in 2012, another 10,000 boomers turn 65. Back in 2003, only 5.7 percent of the U.S. population was 65 or older. Pretty soon, it will be 17.5 percent. And you know what that means (besides a big spike in hair-coloring sales and instant billionaire status for whoever makes the first pair of comfortable high heels)? It means that what the Internet did to brick-and-mortar retailers, boomers are about to do to doctors: Rock their world -- and make them come to us, either in their cars or virtually.

Yup, house calls. Some of them might be video house calls using Skype or a videocam, but still you get the idea. No more driving Mom to the doctor and cooling your jets while she waits to be seen. No more rearranging an entire day around the need to get a flu shot.

Boomers are reshaping the health-care delivery system and doctors who visit their patients in their homes -- or nurses doing blood pressure screenings at senior centers or giving flu shots at drugstores or drawing blood for diabetes tests at churches -- are just a part of what the future of health care looks like, experts say.

Community-delivered services will take over for a lot of routine screenings that are now done in a medical-office setting. And as for the doctor driving to our homes, there are already starting to that through services, like Mobile Doctors, whose doctors have made 250,000 house calls since the company's inception in 1996. The service, which accepts Medicare's assignment, operates weekdays between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Patients are seen within 24 to 48 hours and most diagnostic tests are performed right in the patient's home.

It's the sheer force of boomers' numbers that will demand these and other changes, says Regina Herzlinger, chaired professor at Harvard Business School. Dubbed the "godmother" of consumer-driven health care by Money magazine, Herzlinger notes that boomers as a generation are busier and better educated than previous generations and not shy about voicing their unhappiness. They've seen how effective they can be when they stand shoulder-to-shoulder and are absolutely turning their sights on health care. What other changes are already happening and what can we expect to see? Check out our slideshow for eight top trends.

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  • Power Shift

    Technology has placed mountains of medical information at our fingertips. Knowledge is power, even if your doctor thinks a little knowledge (yours, not his) can be a dangerous thing. The reality is that being able to learn things on our own alters the balance of power in the doctor-patient relationship. We can do our own research and ask our doctors more questions. We are getting second, third and fourth opinions online from other patients who have walked down these same illness paths before us. Heck, we can even sign up for alerts on our medications and be the first to know when a generic for the all-mighty (and all-expensive) Lipitor is available.

  • Comparison Shopping

    Remember that joke that asks, "What do you call the guy who graduated at the bottom of his medical school class?" The answer is "doctor." Let's just say it: Not all doctors are created equal. And as the boomer bubble swells into the next stage of our lives, chances are, we are going to insist on the best. We have formed online communities to recommend hotels, electronics and pretty much everything else. You can expect to see an uptick on online communities that recommend doctors and hospitals.

  • Patients Banding Together

    There are sites like <a href="http://PatientsLikeMe.com" target="_hplink">PatientsLikeMe</a> that hook you up with others who share your diagnosis. This site, with about 1,000 diseases covered, is especially noteworthy, says Harvard's Herzlinger because it just organized the first patient-run clinical test. Clinical tests have remained the purview of drug companies who hope to market a profitable product. In this case, it was a bunch of patients who wanted to test lithium's effectiveness in treating Lou Gerhig's disease (ALS). They found it wasn't, but the world learned in the process that patients can take things into their own hands and not wait for Big Pharma to figure things out for them.

  • Greater Patient Convenience

    Baby boomers like convenience, which is why the house call movement is picking up steam. Also watch for increased evening and weekend office hours by doctors. Pharmacies already stay open late; why not your doctor?

  • Pharmacies Become Service Centers

    Walgreens <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-biz-0110-walgreens-flagship-20120110,0,1421093.story" target="_hplink">just opened a two-story, 27,000-sq.-ft. downtown Chicago store</a> that represents the future of pharmacy. It offers a health clinic offering a wide range of services including vaccinations, health tests, physicals and treatments for common illnesses and minor injuries. The pharmacy also features an "Ask Your Pharmacist" desk, consultation rooms, a Health Corner space to host health and wellness community events and Express Rx kiosks for swift checkout. (There's a sushi bar and mini-spa to boot.)

  • Using Tech To Connect

    Telemedicine enables patients to "see" their doctors using video conferencing or services like Skype. It eliminates distance barriers and could bring a higher level of care to those living in rural areas. It also could just make patients' lives a whole lot simpler. The doctor calls at a pre-arranged time. You can download your glucose readings straight from your hand-held meter into the computer for him to see. Herzlinger says that a phone call appointment with the doctor is in the not-too-distant future for minor health events, which would cost $30 to $50, she said.

  • Standardized Record Keeping

    Keeping medical records online may have made the life of your doctor's office manager easier, but up until now, they haven't done much for patient health. The reason is that there are more than 2,000 IT systems in place tracking patients and those systems, unbelievably, don't talk to each other. Watch for a common IT system that enables all your doctors to have the same information on you. No more faxing test results between offices and having things lost.

  • Rewarding Healthy Lifestyles

    Employers are already implementing programs that reward workers with prizes and low health care premiums for maintaining a health lifestyle, such as <a href="http://us.virginhealthmiles.com/pages/home.aspx" target="_hplink">Virgin's Healthmiles program</a>. A website called <a href="https://www.healthprize.com/consumer/login.do" target="_hplink">HealthPrize</a> collects daily compliance data from users, verifies their prescription refills, and rewards them for adherence with prizes. In the future, expect to see your insurance premiums go down if you agree to have your retina scanned when you go to the gym and wear a device that measures how much oxygen you have flowing through your blood to make sure you aren't just sitting on that exercise bike reading a book.

New Walgreens Offers Sushi, Salon Services: MyFoxCHICAGO.com

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