According to the report published by the United States Census Bureau, by 2034, 77 Million of the population in the USA will be 65 years and older. By 2060, the numbers will increase to 94.7 Million. It means that 1 in 4 people in America will be greater than 65-year old. Compared with the current old-age population, 85 years and older people will be triple. The upcoming demographic change will affect the American healthcare industry in several ways. The need to address old age issues will increase manifold for a start.
At the same time, the USA suffers from a growing issue of ageism. According to Dr. Robert N. Butler, ageism is defined as the “systematic stereotyping and discrimination against people because they are old.” With the growing older population in the USA, the healthcare industry needs to take the proper steps to address their specific needs and requirements. While societal responsibility is of utmost importance, AI in healthcare also plays a significant role. Know about the different issues of ageism, how it affects the healthcare ecosystem and how AI in healthcare can help.
Prevalence of Ageism in Healthcare
While several providers and healthcare organizations take necessary steps to treat all patients equally, there are instances where the elderly population feels left out. It could be due to communication gaps with the providers, lack of understanding of the procedure, or a negative approach to their repeatable needs. Most times, healthcare organizations do not notice these changes in their behavior, and it goes unaddressed for a long time. Here are some examples of the prevalence of ageism in healthcare:
- Providers dismiss many pathological issues as a sign of aging, leading to severe effects or ongoing treatment.
- The natural effects of aging are another issue that gets tagged as diseases, making it hard for the elderly patient to cope with the treatment procedure.
- Clinical trials do not usually include elderly adults with chronic illnesses. It makes the evidence-based results inaccurate or has rippling effects on their well-being.
- Many providers and organization staff implicitly display their ageist statements in comments and actions. They might not realize what effects their words could have on the particular patient. Therefore healthcare organizations must be mindful of the culture prevalent in their workplace.
- The training programs for the hospital staff do not adequately cover the issues of ageism in the workplace. The plan should include units to sensitize the staff about this issue.
Ageism leading to Increasing Healthcare Costs
Without the correct intervention in tackling the ageism issues, healthcare costs could be shooting up without any optimization. It could have a severe negative effect on healthcare organizations and older patients. Experts researching the impact of ageism on healthcare provide two sides to this problem.
In the first case, the providers usually do not consider certain health conditions while mapping their treatment plan. The healthcare organizations rule out a few situations as ‘natural’ effects of aging though they might need proper supervision from a healthcare professional. Some common conditions that remain undiagnosed in the elderly population are:
- Cognitive impairment
In the other case, the provider might be over-treating specific symptoms of these elderly patients while they can be due to their age. The over-treatment without a proper assessment from the provider’s side leads to increasing bill amounts and extreme surgery procedures that lack medical necessity. According to recent research by the Regis College, overtreatment could lead to a healthcare expense of $158 billion to $226 billion annually. This practice could significantly alter patient outcomes as such:
- Intensive care and surgery are the typical results of overtreating patients
- Too many medical procedures could lead to chronic issues like urine incontinence
- Patients might be going through a disproportionate number of tests due to benign and slow-growing tumors.
Needless to say, medical necessity is one of the crucial reasons for claim denials. Assigning several diagnostic tests and prescribing surgery without proof of medical necessity could lead to claim denial and thus disrupt your revenue cycle.
AI in Healthcare combating Ageism
Artificial intelligence and machine learning tools can be excellent partners in combating the changing needs of the elderly population in the American healthcare industry. Incorporating AI in healthcare and treatment plans specifically for older patients can make the provider’s job easier. Some of the common uses of AI in healthcare are:
- Predicting possible health issues and suggesting changes to their current treatment plan
- Providing suggestions about chronic pain management, which is often one of the top conditions older patients suffer from
- Helping in faster drug development keeping the changing needs and body reactions of the older patients into consideration
However, if not correctly designed with enough representation from the older population, AI tools can propagate the issue of ageism in the healthcare system. Recently, the World Health Organization issued a policy document highlighting these issues with pointers on how AI in healthcare can be developed to make it more inclusive and combat ageism.
- Designing AI in healthcare needs to consider the older population. Data science partners should stress the inclusion of this population.
- Most times, elderly patients are discriminated against by the healthcare systems due to their access to digital tools. Healthcare organizations should take steps to close the digital literacy gap and include older patients when using the tools of AI in healthcare.
- The AI uses can often be biased if the data-inclusiveness is not a part of their designing process. To avoid skewed results, healthcare organizations should be wary of the tools they are using and communicate with the tool provider on the inclusivity of the older population.
Above everything else, providers need to have a transparent mode of communication with elderly patients. Making them understand the various uses of the technology and how they can be helpful in managing their health conditions could be beneficial for their clinical outcomes.
We hope this article helped you understand the different facets of ageism prevalent in the healthcare industry and how AI in healthcare can help you overcome them. Please write to us in the comment section below if you have any queries. Subscribe to our blog and follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for more articles and news updates.