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Jakarta Post

Connected care and aging population

Jakarta   /   Tue, October 18, 2016   /  02:17 pm
Connected care and aging population Illustration of 'connected care' approach. (Shutterstock/File)

Rapid economic and human development leading to increased life expectancy will eventually put Indonesia on the brink of a new social phenomenon: an aging population. 

Data from the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) has revealed that within the next four years, Indonesia’s aging population will reach 11.34 percent of the total population. The figure will increase by almost four times in 2050, which statistically means that one in four Indonesians will be over 65 years of age.

The progress in prolonging human life, if combined with unhealthy lifestyle choices, makes people more likely to develop non-communicable diseases such as stroke, cancer, heart disease or diabetes as they get older. 

That will undoubtedly place considerable pressure on Indonesia’s health-care system in the future, as an unwelcome addition to the government’s already increasing social security burdens. In short, today’s health care is unsustainable and will not be up to future challenges. A new approach to obtaining better outcomes at lower costs is needed.

Fortunately, our country is not alone in this unfamiliar journey. Other parts of the world, especially developed countries, have begun to cope with increasingly aging populations, creating more integrated health-care approaches that rely on data, technology and connectivity. It is simply called “connected care”.

The idea of connected care starts with the notion that health is not only the responsibility of health-care providers but also patients. 

Currently, patients tend to be “passive”, visiting doctors only when their health starts to deteriorate, leaving relatively few choices for treatment and, hence, increasing the cost of health care. A connected care approach, on the other hand, encourages patients to be more involved in managing their own health.

Connected care enables information sharing between all parts of the health system. On the very lowest level, this involves a smart watch or mobile application that tracks a person’s key health indicators such as heartbeat, nutrition, calories burned, or even sleep routine. 

On a higher level, this data is collected, analyzed and interpreted by sophisticated algorithms, so that whenever abnormal health results — even the slightest ones — are detected, the app can quickly alert the person while at the same time sending a notification to a doctor or hospital for further follow-up. 

In that way, people will become more empowered and health conscious, so they can adjust their lifestyles to become healthier long before a disease develops in their body. In addition, data integration with hospitals or a centralized healthcare system enables doctors to retain patients’ complete health information in order to provide appropriate feedback on disease prevention and make the right decisions when medical treatment is necessary.

Despite being promising, the implementation of connected care in Indonesia could face significant hurdles such as technology adoption and legal implications. 

In order for connected care to be successfully implemented, both patients and health-care professionals must be willing to learn and be comfortable with technology. This may be a challenge especially for elderly people or those living in rural areas. However, the quick adoption of mobile technology among the younger generations will eventually take care of this problem in the long run.

The challenges from the legal perspective are bigger and have also been experienced by developed countries in their efforts to promote a connected care approach. Security compromises, data privacy and information breaches are among the top concerns that could preclude the adoption of connected care in the health system. 

These hurdles require special treatment by the government in the form of an appropriate and balanced regulatory framework in order to foster patient trust. 

People must have confidence that their data will not be shared irresponsibly or be used against them. Otherwise, they will be reluctant to share their user-generated information. The regulation should also remove doubts and concerns among health-care professionals who handle the data.

Although challenging and requiring a lot of effort, connected care may be the answer to ensure Indonesia is ready to address its aging population in the future. It should be recognized that health care is a matter of national financial stability. Thus, citizens must play an active role in maintaining their own health. 

The start of implementation does not have to be huge or involve significant resources. For instance, the government could set up pilot projects in certain cities, with the assistance of local authorities and in cooperation with medical companies. Once successful, it could be replicated in another places until the whole nation is integrated. 

By starting early, we can ensure that the nation is ready to handle the social phenomenon of an aging population when it occurs.

 

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The writer is a business tech consultant and investment practitioner focusing on the IT, fintech and healthtech sectors. The views expressed are his own.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.