Try all you want to stay young, but you can’t stop ageing—and the world population is ageing fast. According to the United Nations World Population Prospects 2017, the number of people 60 years old and above is expected to double by 2050, to 2.1 billion. With life expectancy increasing, this demographic shift presents a healthcare dilemma in managing disease, especially among the growing number of elderly who are dealing with both chronic and lifestyle-related conditions.
Given the pace at which the elderly population is growing, the global healthcare industry faces key two immediate and key challenges: strengthening health promotion and disease prevention, especially in areas with poor doctor-to-patient ratio; and improving quality of care and strengthening social security systems for geriatric care, especially in emerging economies that lack an effective social security system.
“Navigating” the conundrum of geriatric care with technology
Accenture Labs in India is working with MAYA Health, an NGO active in the social transformation space, creating a viable business model to bridge the gap for healthcare service delivery to the elderly in rural areas. This is an area of particular challenge in emerging economies—in India, one study shows that nearly two-thirds of the elderly live in rural villages, where limited connectivity compounds existing problems, and nearly half are poor. We are enabling a “gig economy” through an innovative technology platform that has helped establish a network of empowered micro health entrepreneurs or health navigators. These navigators help the elderly gain easier access to local healthcare providers, including government-run hospitals, private nursing homes and diagnostic centers.
The navigators also guide the elderly with personalized diet plans and periodic monitoring, and highlight the benefits in time, money, and energy saved, sharing peer success stories to inspire the elderly to join the network and sustain positive wellness behaviors. With the primary focus on preventive and proactive health measures, the navigators recommend a doctor’s visit only when absolutely necessary.
In Chennapatna, a semi-urban area in Karnataka, India, our survey of 433 older persons older than 60 years indicated a series of healthcare challenges, including a lack of health awareness (47 percent had never visited a hospital for basic preventive health checkup); no job stability and low income (79 percent are employed in the informal sector with no security of tenure and benefits, while 97 percent live with families that earn less than US$150 per month); poor penetration of health insurance (57 percent uninsured, and 27 percent insured through government health insurance schemes that do not cover outpatient services or medicine purchase); and finally, no easy access to affordable healthcare. The nearest public healthcare center is six kilometers away, and more than 60 percent of the elderly prefer not to go to these state hospitals for reasons such as long travel time, doctor unavailability and lack of personal attention.
Accenture and MAYA conducted a pilot intervention for elderly people in Chennapatna, delivering preventive and proactive services in the areas of diabetes, hypertension, hygiene, nutrition and vision care management, while augmenting the income of the health navigators. As much as eighty percent of their revenues come from hypertension and diabetes management with an average of 1,208 hypertension (INR15 per test) and 1,304 diabetes testing (INR30 per test) conducted per month. This pilot yielded positive results, including:
Reduced visits to doctors—once in two months, instead of every 15 days
Personalized services—follow-up frequency is tuned to the need of the person
Greater trust in the health navigators—50 percent of members of one community cluster have made a lifestyle change of incorporating walking in their daily routine
Decreased waiting time and cost for checkup—total cost reduced by 1/3rd
High quality door-to-door service
Never mind ageing. Staying healthy matters!
With virtually every country in the world expected to experience continued growth in the elderly population, Accenture Labs in India aims to keep pace by strengthening existing geriatric care mechanisms. The next step is to create easy-to-use, resource-friendly health monitoring tools. For example, a proactive way to identify the need for early interventions is through monitoring heart rate variability. In this context, a new-age biomarker has caught the attention of several researchers as particularly useful in early detection of some critical health conditions of the elderly. As such, health navigators can use this to identify at-risk older people and start early intervention.
Ageing has and will always be inevitable. We can’t stop or reverse it, but we can help people manage it with dignity and grace. Technological innovations bring advanced and effective healthcare within the reach of our growing elderly population, who need it the most.