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What Do Healthcare Providers Need to Know about Boomer Health?


Last year, USA Today proclaimed, “Good news, America: We’re living longer!” Based on the latest findings by two Princeton economists, however, that announcement should come with a caveat: except for white Americans aged 45 to 54. Surprised? The study, conducted by the 2015 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science winner Dr. Angus Deaton and his colleague, Dr. Anne Case, identified the troubling trend by analyzing CDC health and mortality data. Could your patient engagement strategies be missing their mark?

The Focus for Patient Engagement Needs to Expand

According to a recent New York Times article covering the study, not all the news is bad. The mortality rate for middle-aged African Americans and Hispanics has continued to move downward, as it also has for younger and older Americans across all races and ethnicities. But the upward trend among middle-aged whites is worrying, particularly because of the causes at the root of the spike.

Since chronic health conditions like obesity, high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes are on the rise among adults 55 years and older, you might expect that the climbing death rate in their younger counterparts would also relate to heart disease and diabetes.  Instead, the leap has largely been caused by drug or alcohol abuse and suicide. As mental health reform and culturally-competent care have been hot topics in the media lately, it’s clear that others have recognized the growing problems caused by prescription opioid abuse, heroin addiction and depression.

In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association last year, researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health reported that only 22 percent of addicts receive any kind of substance abuse treatment despite the fact that addiction is, in the words of one author of the JAMA study, a “chronic relapsing illness”—not dissimilar to diabetes.

Often not considered is the potential for Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection that may arise from drug abuse (e.g., sharing needles).  It is estimated that the prevalence of HCV infection among Baby Boomers is 5 times higher than for people born outside this generation.  A bar chart from a 2009 Milliman report illustrates this issue:

HCV_Chart.pngThis is serious enough that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued new screening recommendations addressing the issue.

In comments to the New York Times about the findings, Harvard healthcare economist David M. Cutler acknowledged that people knew substance abuse was leading to more deaths, but believed they were “blips in the healthcare statistics.” This new report, however, “shows those blips are more like incoming missiles.”  And the death rate is being skewed even further by a specific group within the demographic of middle-aged white Americans, namely the poorly educated.

How Does This Impact Your Patient Engagement Strategy?

Certainly, healthcare providers need to rethink patient engagement when it comes to addressing the issues that these youngest Baby Boomers are facing, as well as continuing to push on the traditional health concerns of older Boomers. As it now stands, healthcare providers may want to increase focus on reaching those middle-aged whites with a high-school education or less, since their mortality rate alone rose 22 percent, effectively driving up the numbers for the entire demographic. Dr. Case also noted that this cohort reported more chronic joint pain and more financial distress—two factors that could contribute to both substance abuse and higher-than-average suicide rates.

Patient engagement strategies need to address these issues early, more effectively helping healthcare consumers who are most at risk address pain and depression. Moreover, addressing obesity remains a priority, since it occurs at a higher rate among lower income Americans and is a significant contributor to chronic joint pain as well as many of the chronic diseases that Baby Boomers struggle with as they age. Meanwhile, your patient engagement strategy cannot afford to ignore the other health considerations that Baby Boomers face.

  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD
  • Stroke
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Diabetes

To start improving outcomes for these Americans, engagement needs to take place early enough and in a motivating way to have a positive impact, driving the lifestyle changes that can improve health and quality of life.  Tailoring your approach to appeal to the individual Baby Boomer patient, based on his or her personality, priorities and lifestyle, will be critical for success. Psychographics can be a powerful tool for enabling this depth of understanding. Incorporating psychographic insights into your patient interactions can yield substantial breakthroughs in clinician/patient interactions.

Now it appears that healthcare providers must expand the range of chronic conditions they address to include substance abuse and mental health. Will this study be a catalyst for making changes to your own patient engagement strategies for Baby Boomers?

Psychographic Segmentation and its Practical Application in Patient Engagement and Behavior Change


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