The Baby Boomer generation that led America’s remarkable economic growth for so long is now a generation that is graying rapidly. America is already a nation of caregivers, with 1 in 8 Americans responsible for caring for an older person in their family. As the Baby Boomers start to retire and as life expectancies lengthen, these numbers will only increase, making America one of the world’s oldest nations within the next two decades. By some estimates, the real demographic time bomb is set to go off in 2030, when 1 in 5 Americans will be over the age of 65. The good news is that innovative responses to this graying of the Baby Boomer generation might just end up giving us the healthcare revolution we've wanted for so long.
This week, for example, former Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz and Walter Smith, one of the co-inventors of the Apple Newton, unveiled a new startup for adult caregivers called CareZone. What CareZone does is give power back to the people by making it easier to track and monitor the healthcare needs of loved ones. In fact, CareZone is billed as “productivity software” that functions much like software you may already use - like Basecamp - for other Internet projects. Instead of project updates, though, you get updates on people you’re caring for. You literally “subscribe” to people and follow their updates. In time, CareZone could eventually become a healthcare dashboard that provides plug-and-play interfaces with enterprise-class health systems and real-time heathcare data from mobile phones.
And it’s not just CareZone. Techno-philanthropists, entrepreneurs and NGOs are beginning to tackle health and wellness from a number of different perspectives. They are taking lessons from the recent Internet boom and applying them to the formerly intractable area of healthcare. As PSFK pointed out in a special report in coordination with UNICEF, powerful ideas like Big Data and Gamification are now becoming part and parcel of future healthcare solutions.
There is, of course, a financial incentive for the next wave of healthcare entrepreneurs: solve the Baby Boomer demographic crisis and you stand to make a lot of money in the process. The exact size of the pot at the end of the rainbow is hard to estimate, but it's clear that this is a multi-billion-dollar market opportunity. At the end of 2011, Gallup actually put a number on the healthcare problem and found that adult caregiving is a $25 billion annual drain on the U.S. economy, in terms of lost hours, sick days and lost productivity.
Obviously, healthcare is a difficult dragon to slay. Consider the time, difficulty and expense in simply digitizing the nation’s healthcare records. Google, through its Google Health initiative, hoped to become the savior of the nation's healthcare needs before eventually confronting the staggering amount of red tape and bureaucracy in the healthcare sector. However, digitizing healthcare -- reducing health issues to a nearly infinite series of 1s and 0s -- sets in motion a whole host of other innovations. As computing power increases, so does the sophistication of algorithms. One senses that, given enough data, and given the right algorithm, many of the healthcare problems facing the Baby Boomer generation can be solved sooner rather than later.
It’s clear that something big is afoot in the healthcare industry. When you are able to manage the healthcare needs of family members from the palm of your hand - and when smart phones are able to deliver diagnoses as good as that of any human doctor - everything changes. For now, the easiest way to solve a big problem is to break it into a number of constituent parts. In the case of CareZone, the strategy appears to be breaking up healthcare into two pieces: health and care. While health is still in the hands of medical professionals (at least, until our smart phones catch up), care is something that all of us can impact. Look for more innovative thinking about healthcare, where the people empowered to change the system are not government providers, but everyday people like you and me.
image: A Nurse in Aged Care for the Elderly / Shutterstock