People, in general, are living longer these days - and the majority of the population is indeed getting older. The latest statistics show that by 2030, the entire baby boomer generation will be over 65. That’s 77 million people. For the first time in U.S. history, this age group will exceed the population of those under 18 (76.5 million). And Americans 65 and older can expect an average of about 20 more years. At this rate, healthcare demand can quickly eclipse healthcare supply.
If you’re in the primary care or geriatric field, this trend has obvious implications. However, if you’re in a field like radiology, urgent care, urology, or PT, these changes will have some profound impacts on your business as well. You’ll be treating older patients and seeing them age for a longer period of time.
This trend presents a tremendous opportunity to attract and cater to this age group, and there are several steps you can take today to help with aging patient problems and make your entire practice irresistible to an aging population.
Create a Soothing Space
Your office is a large part of the experience, and it’s important to set the stage with a welcoming environment. This is helpful for all age groups, but seniors in particular respond well to quiet, subdued spaces without loud noises and bright colors, as sensory issues can cause blood pressure irregularities, anxiety, and even disorientation. Be mindful of the colors and visual distractions, use dimmers to reduce eye strain, and minimize or mask sounds like intercoms and beepers.
You can implement other small changes to make a great impression and ensure your patients’ safety. Let's start with the waiting room. Offer taller, firmer seats with arms to help those that struggle to stand up. In the exam rooms, you can use thicker mattresses for sensitive skin. Some practices feature examination tables that are wider than usual and have electronically adjustable heights to avoid falls. Some also include hooks for canes that patients can use when seated. Installing automatic doors eliminates cane and walker juggling too. Finally, having non-skid surfaces that deter falls will be extremely appreciated - almost like a welcome mat for patients.
Take Advantage of Technology
Adopting new technology can help older patients in many ways. Patient care systems can supplement the work that healthcare professionals may struggle to keep up with as more patients are added to their care.
Platforms like telemedicine apps and websites provide patients with ambulatory issues (and now those staying distanced due to COVID-19) a way to be “seen” and treated without leaving their homes. In addition to saving time, telemedicine saves money. An Accenture study followed a community in Spain in which one in five patients used telemedicine appointments — and in just one year, the community saved $55 million — while also reducing hospital stays by 52,000.
Technology can sometimes feel cold and uncaring for this age group. Showing empathy and support is extremely important to counter these negative perceptions. For telemedicine, make sure that you clearly communicate the instructions on how the technology works. Even setting it up and testing it earlier is a great idea, especially for a first visit. Make kiosks easy to use and ensure that your website is easy to navigate. Keep in touch with personalized reminders by email or phone. This is great customer service - and a smart practice.
Simplify Medication Maintenance
With age typically comes ailments that need to be treated with medication. Unfortunately, this will also (likely) mean headaches. You can make life easier for your practice and your elderly patients by recommending simple apps and pill dispensers that remind patients of when they need to refill their medication. Some can even track if a bottle has been opened and how many pills were taken. These have been shown to increase adherence by 40% while potentially saving 50,000 lives and $120 billion annually.
Many times, this demographic would rather communicate via phone than email, so be mindful of incorporating calls into your communication plans. You might think about including phone numbers on appointment cards if you don’t already do so. Seniors grew up with a high-touch approach to customer service, and they appreciate human-to-human interaction over computers when possible.
Communication is also key in your office. Ensure that larger printed signs clearly mark the traffic flow, current seating arrangements, and protocol for COVID-19 (consider providing a map if your office is larger and more byzantine). Signs in the parking lot can also be crucial to wayfinding, and can make the parking process less frustrating, especially for newcomers.
Consider Your Parking Situation
Are accessible spots clearly marked? Can you carve out spots closer to the entrance just for seniors? Can you offer valet services? These steps can ensure that parking doesn’t derail the experience. Many older patients do not have handicapped stickers, but may still require a cane or walker, so it’s important to ensure that ramps are not too steep and that sidewalks are repaired.
With so many simple ways to create an inviting and engaging experience for your patients, the only question left is where to start. If any of these currently present an issue, beginning now will prepare you for when the number of older patients is even higher. What are some real steps you can take now to make a difference tomorrow?
Ironmark can help take some of your headaches away, with multiple solutions that provide efficiencies for multi-unit specialty medical practices.