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The Future of Health for Americans Over 50

Predictions for the next 5 and 10 years plus a 'Jetsons' forecast

By Emily Gurnon

This month, Next Avenue is celebrating our fifth anniversary. To mark the occasion, we thought it would be interesting to talk to futurists and other knowledgeable thought leaders about what the coming years might bring for Americans over 50. Each Monday in May, we’ll showcase their forecasts and comments for each of our five content areas: Health & Well-Being, Money & Security, Work & Purpose, Living & Learning and Caregiving.

We’ve asked them to give us “predictions,” or at least educated guesses, for what will take place in five years, 10 years and in a “Jetsons” scenario — going far into the future. Today, we’ll start with one of my content areas: Health & Well-Being.

In 5 Years: Real Health Reform

Futurist Eric Meade, principal at Whole Mind Strategy Group in Washington, D.C., believes the country is on the verge of a major remaking of the health care system in which prevention becomes a priority.

“In the policy and academic areas, there's clear evidence and understanding of the social determinants of health,” he said. “So [we will see] a greater intention to get at the root of some of the issues that show up in health. Political will will falter from time to time, but [we are] moving toward a preponderance of folks saying, ‘Hey, you know, this is probably a good thing to do — to take care of people and provide basic necessities and try to unpack some of the things, in housing or education, for instance, that have made people less well.’ ”

While The Affordable Care Act was essentially a “health insurance reform,” Meade said he could anticipate a “genuine, more holistic, health reform” in the 2021 and 2022 legislative sessions.

“I think the political environment will be very different from what it was in 2010 when Obamacare was passed,” he said.

In 5 Years: A New Patient Experience

Dr. Andrew Morris-Singer, founder and president of Primary Care Progress (which advocates for reform in primary care delivery and training), looks to Electronic Health Records (EHR) as changing health care for the better: “My sense is in five years, most Americans are going to be as comfortable working with their personal EHR as they are working with an ATM in managing their finances,” he said.

Morris-Singer added: “They're going to know how to access their information. They're going to know what information they're looking for. They're going to feel comfortable being a part of the documentation group in terms of noting what's going on with them, correcting information that the physician or another member of the care team has put in the record that's actually not true. And they're going to feel much more engaged and empowered because of that.”

In 10 Years: An Income for Everyone

Meade said within 10 years  he expected that we will have Universal Basic Income, a system in which every American or every household gets a certain amount of money each month from the federal government. For the purposes of discussion, he said it might be $1,000 or $2,000.

“Switzerland just had a referendum on it and didn't pass it. [But] with the number of pilots going on around the world on it, I think it's something to watch,” he said.

How would this impact health?

“It's a bit of a slashing the Gordian knot in social determinants. If you take all these people who are working two or three minimum-wage jobs and they're not interacting with their kids and they're living in slums or places with mold and cockroaches and you just said, ‘Look, we're kind of a rich country.  Why don't we just give everyone a geographically adjusted amount, let's say $1,000 a month, to help cover some of those basic needs?' I think that would have a profound impact on people's health and well-being.”

In 10 Years: Super-Advanced Personal Health Technology

Health care futurist Joe Flower, author of How to Get What We Pay For, predicted that in 10 years, there will be a range of personal health-related technology far beyond what we’ve seen so far with the likes of the Fitbit.

“These all would be tuned to your particular needs,” he said. “There are certain conditions under which we would like to be tracked at all times.”


An example would be a patient with heart disease who has a pacemaker, Flower said. "Just imagine that that [pacemaker] has a cell phone number. Imagine that it is part of the Internet of Things. If you are walking down the sidewalk and you suddenly clutch your chest in pain and fall to the sidewalk, it has already dialed 911. It is able to unlock your medical records for the EMTs or whomever responds, and to monitor what is actually going on in your body. So by the time the EMTs arrive, they know exactly what's going on with you, who you are, who your doctor is and what hospital you normally interact with. They know everything they need to know to treat you and are put in contact directly with the ER they're going to take you to.”

Flower said that Medtronic is in the process of developing this technology.

Another example, Flower forecast: Sensors will be used to give us minute-to-minute information on our health. “We could imagine going in to look in the bathroom mirror in the morning and there on a display on the mirror are all kinds of readouts about how your body's doing at this moment. Do you need to take this or that supplement? Should you do some exercise to get your body's metabolism moving again? All displayed on the mirror for you," Flower said.

A 'Jetsons' Prediction

While Meade resisted the “Jetsons” moniker (it “degrades the quality of the profession”), he predicted that in 50 or 100 years, we could see a revolution in health thanks to blockchain.

The system behind bitcoin, blockchain is “a vast, global distributed ledger or database running on millions of devices and open to anyone, where not just information but anything of value ... can be moved and stored securely and privately.” That’s according to Don and Alex Tapscott, in a May 2016 Harvard Business Review article.

Meade said blockchain and subsequent technologies “would allow people to have a high-integrity, personal data cloud of health information surrounding them that they are the shepherds of. They own it, they grant access or don't grant access.”

Individuals could set up “triggers” for activation of a living will, for instance.

His example: “If these three [health] indicators point in this direction, [the database would show] this is what I want to happen with my health care. If they point in these other directions, this is what I want to happen in my health care. So [it means] setting up high-integrity, automated, data-driven processes owned by the patient or the consumer and highly password protected, highly secure for their use and well-being.”

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Emily Gurnon
Emily Gurnon is the former Senior Content Editor covering health and caregiving for Next Avenue. Her stories include a series of articles on guardianship abuse that was funded by the Journalists in Aging Fellows Program. She previously spent 20 years as an award-winning newspaper reporter in the San Francisco Bay Area and St. Paul. Reach her through her website. Read More
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