Preparing for the Aging Population

As the Baby Boomers hit retirement age and beyond, new demands will be put on providers
Whether most of us realized it or not, 2006 was a momentous year for the future of the healthcare industry in America: the first of the Baby Boomers (Americans born between 1946 and 1964) turned 60 years old. That point was the beginning of what may be the most important shift in modern healthcare because from that moment on, the rate of Americans over 60 began to skyrocket. The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a) found in a 2006 report that "when the trend peaks in 2030, the number of people over age 65 will soar to 71.5 million -- one in every five Americans." This will literally double the number of elderly people per capita from its 2000 levels.

This trend is not an American phenomenon either. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration on Aging recently reported a staggering set of world population statistics: "In 2000, approximately 605 million people were 60 years or older. By 2050, that number is expected to be close to 2 billion. At that time, seniors will outnumber children 14 and under for the first time in history."

Dramatic effect on healthcare providers’ workload
This change in patient demographic is sure to represent an enormous increase in the number of visits most healthcare providers will see. Not only will these patients need more care than they did before, they will require more preventative and proactive procedures such as screenings, blood work and general check-ups. Even the healthiest people of the entire Baby Boomer generation will see their physician several more times a year than they have been previously.

More geriatric patients making more visits means there will be a premium on bringing in excellent staff, training them and keeping them in place. Unless something is done, high turnover rate among staff members who have the most contact with patients will make it even more difficult for physicians to care for a higher volume of patients. Providers across the industry must place more emphasis on retaining staff and keeping them well trained.

Difficulties collecting payment
In 2011 the first Baby Boomers will qualify for Medicare. This rapid influx of Medicare recipients will make the already complicated process of collecting payments even more burdensome. Providers must be prepared for not just the delivery of care, but also the complex billing issues that will ensue. Failing to do so could cause the provider side of the healthcare system to be pushed beyond the limits of its infrastructure and severely hindered by lost revenue in the billing and payment process.

Healthcare providers who rely on manual or dated methods to handle key revenue cycle tasks like patient registration, eligibility checks, claiming, payment receipt, denial management or payment posting could lose revenue due to write-offs and underpayments. Automated electronic solutions will prove vital in making this increasingly burdensome process more efficient and more profitable.

Preparation is key
By working to increase staff retention and automate key revenue cycle processes, healthcare providers can prepare themselves for the rapid changes this increase in older patients will create. Automating the intake, storage and exchange of data with easy-to-use electronic solutions can save time while reducing many of the delays and lost revenue associated with manual processes. Implementing standardized processes across offices as well as health care systems can also help increase efficiencies. Preparation will allow providers to keep their primary focus on what's really important: taking care of patients, not paperwork.