Recent articles in the news this past week depressed me, and that is hard to do. Aside from global healthcare and technology, the article covered one of my favorite subjects, demographics. In my mind, global healthcare, technology, and demographics are all connected.
The article, “Mind-Blowing Demographics Shift” discussed more than the old (baby-boomers) and young (millennials) we have talked about. The focus of the article was about what is going on in the oldest of the developed economies, Japan. The last time I looked, Japan’s average life-span age was 10 years older than the U.S., and about five years older than Western Europe. That means, even though they have a very homogeneous society, and don’t have the huge immigration we have had in the U.S. since our founding, they are a very important point of reference.
A CNBC article titled, “Japan’s Elderly Turn to Life of Crime to Ease Cost of Living” was a very grim one that noted:
Crime figures show that about 35 per cent of shoplifting offences are committed by people over 60. Within that age bracket, 40 per cent of repeat offenders have committed the same crime more than six times.
There is good reason, concludes a report, to suspect that the shoplifting crime wave in particular represents an attempt by those convicted to end up in prison — an institution that offers free food, accommodation and healthcare.
Let us remember that Japan is the third largest economy in the world today, and this problem has huge social and economic impact. Now, if you think that problem is only in Japan, take a look at the graph below.
When focusing on the demographics in the U.S., I came across a perfect article that appeared in Bloomberg BusinessWeek recently. The article titled “Where Retirement Isn’t Job One” focused on Brooks Brother’s plant in Long Island City in New York State. The key part of the article was this:
“Though the factory’s 222 employees range in age from 22 to 80, more than half are 55 or older. The average tenure is 30 years. The plant is an example of age diversity, providing a glimpse of where the U.S. workplace may soon be heading as the population ages. Almost 20 percent of Americans 65 or older were employed last year, up from 12 percent a decade ago. More seniors are keeping their jobs beyond traditional retirement age, because they want to continue working and often need the income. At the same time, manufacturers, retailers, and even legacy technology companies are rediscovering the value of older, more seasoned workers and are taking steps to keep them.”
It is abundantly clear that we in the U.S. are heading in the same direction as Japan, and also Germany; both are getting older, and are likely to see shortages in skilled workers. Companies will need to adapt to an aging population, and from our perspective, this clearly means changing health conditions and providing more accommodations. I recall a decade ago in a presentation we mentioned that every major company in the U.S. was effectively in the healthcare business. I specifically remember everyone looking at me like I just said something in a foreign language however, when you realize how much a major company spends in healthcare insurance, services, and administration, it’s considerable. General Motors spends as much per car on steel as it does in healthcare.
The Bloomberg article went on to say that Brooks Brothers:
“changed some rules to make every day work-life easier for the older staff. Workers who are ill or need to care for ailing relatives have flexibility to take time off. In addition to vacation, each employee receives 1,400 minutes a year to use for doctor appointments or to go to school events for children or grandchildren. And employees get ergonomic help at their workstations.”
This leads me to my final point, we need to be alert and proactive on what those trends not only mean for economics but also, our perspective on healthcare needs. The entire world is aging, the proportion of elderly is growing, and soon it will overwhelm everything developed in the entire world. As a society, we need to make those modifications sooner rather than later. From a healthcare perspective, the U.S. is facing a huge shortage of providers (more on this topic next week); we need to use more and better technology to extend the care we give to that aging population, myself included. More telemedicine, shared medical records, as well as more and extensive patient engagement, are just a few examples of how technology can extend our care. In the past, we have even used this blog to talk about the use of robots to provide care. We need to see that demographic shift, and accelerate those changes now!
– Noel J. Guillama, President