The eMatchPhysicians Blog
Is Our Healthcare System Prepared for an Aging Nation?
Posted on: Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Over the past 40 years, the age distribution of the U.S. population has gradually shifted upwards. According to the 2010 census, one in eight Americans is now over the age of 65, and one in three is older than 50. Most of this shift can be attributed to the aging of the Baby Boomers, who vastly outnumber current birth rates.
Women comprise the majority of this aging group because they typically outlive their male counterparts. Since many of these women were never part of the workforce and have limited financial resources, they are particularly vulnerable when it comes to the rising costs of health care. More and more elderly are forced to continue working due to financial strain. The current health care system—with its focus on curative care—is not equipped to handle the coming challenges of this aging population.
A greater emphasis on care giving will be needed to adapt to these changing demographics. As it is, the purpose of most medical care is curing illness. But what about the many elderly who suffer from incurable, chronic illnesses? What about the people who would rather live out the rest of their lives in peace rather than suffer through expensive and unpleasant medical procedures that would only prolong their life for perhaps a few more months? This area is currently neglected because caring for dying patients is not only depressing, but it also isn’t profitable. But as this population continues to age, the demand for caregivers and doctors specializing in geriatrics who can administer quality palliative or hospice care is expected to increase dramatically. Instead of trying to prevent death for the chronically-ill elderly, maybe we should instead focus on helping them come to terms with death and enjoy what life they still have left.
The elderly face the dilemma of a shortage of geriatric and palliative trained physicians. Unfortunately, the geriatrics subspecialty is the lowest paid, which has deterred physicians from pursuing training in this field. With the cost of medical school debt, physicians cannot afford a career in geriatric care. Aside from low compensation, Medicare doctor reimbursements do not cover the cost of patient treatment. With the aging Baby Boomer population and a lack of incentive for physicians to practice geriatric medicine, a lot of people will not be able to receive the care they need.
Tags: Aging Population and Healthcare, Baby Boomers, Geriatrics, healthcare, Medicare, Palliative Medicine
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