The Future Integration of Long-Term Care by the Screenagers

Industry Insights from Paul Meade, M. Sc, MPH

One word that optimally summarizes long-term care in the United States is fragmentation. Like a microcosm of the overall fragmented healthcare system in the U.S., long-term care suffers from similarly fragmented clinical care, living care, and financing. As the population ages and Baby Boomers retire and take on a host of chronic illnesses, the problems of long-term care need to be solved fairly quickly. And who better to fix the long-term care fragmentation than the “screenagers?” What’s a screenager? Read on.

While the Baby Boomers did not create a fragmented healthcare delivery system, they certainly contributed to its broader and deeper fragmentation. They are a generation that demands instant gratification, has high expectations, and suffers from an entitlement mentality. As children of the Depression generation, they were given everything their parents were denied growing up; thus, they began to expect more. Baby Boomers will not tolerate growing old and not having the best of everything–which, for this discussion, includes long-term care. While the Baby Boomers are too impatient to wait for the fragmentation of the long-term care system to integrate itself, they are certainly too busy to do it themselves.

So, who will come to their rescue? Appropriately, the saviors of the Baby Boomers are the generations that follow them– Generations X and Y–or, as they are sometimes collectively known, “screenagers.” These young adults are comfortable handling complex systems, multi-tasking, and being right at home with technology. In fact, many among the X and Y generations never knew what it meant to get up from the couch to change the channel on a television, or what life without a computer looked like, and they cannot imagine being unable to access information anywhere at any time. Having grown up looking at monitors (television, computer screens, iPods/iPads and smart phones) – hence the nickname, screenagers)–this generation of young adults will use information technology as the integrating tool to help fix the fragmented healthcare delivery system.

A good place for the new generation of leaders to start their work is with long-term care. Why? The answer is quite simple–because they will want to make their demanding parents (those demanding Baby Boomers) as comfortable and as far away from them as possible. No Gen Xer will want to go through what the Baby Boomers had to go through proving long-term care for their parents, and especially hearing about it over and over again from their whining Baby Boomer parents.

Electronic Medical Records (EMR) and Personal Health Records (PHR) will be the most effective tools that for the integration of long-term care. Screenagers are used to integration and efficiency when it comes to electronic information, and they are even less tolerant to fragmentation of data than are the Baby Boomers (who actually remember, all too well, the days before computers and the Internet). Watch a young adult play a computer game over the Internet with a few dozen other players from around the world joining in—fully integrated and seamless in execution–and you will see what their expectations are from electronic information.

When information on our health status and health needs can be entered just once and retrieved by many to develop a seamless, integrated program of long-term care that changes periodically as one ages, our fragmented system has a real chance at unifying to deliver better public health.  Individual Personal Health Records will be juxtaposed with Electronic Medical Records within the healthcare system to create a unified approach to consolidating long-term care services and facilities. So, when our screenagers are finished playing their seamless, integrated computer games over the Internet and come up for air, perhaps we can convince them to tackle an even more challenging game, that of long-term care for their aging and complaining parents. Perhaps there is hope after all!

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