Millennials, the cohort of Americans born between 1980 and the mid-2000s, are the largest generation in the U.S., representing one-third of the total U.S. population in 2013. With the oldest of Millennials only in their early thirties, most members of this generation are at the beginning of their careers and so will be an important engine of the economy in the decades to come.
The significance of Millennials extends beyond their numbers. Theirs is the first generation to have had access to the Internet during their formative years. Millennials also stand out because they are the most diverse and educated generation to date: 42% identify with a race or ethnicity other than non-Hispanic white, around twice the share of the Baby Boomer generation when they were the same age. About 61% of adult Millennials have attended college, whereas only 46% of the Baby Boomers did so.
And it’s difficult to imagine, but 21% of the U.S. population – including a great number of Millennials – will be senior citizens by 2050. And they will see a far different medical landscape, compared to today’s 65+ population.
The challenge: increasing number of chronic diseases
Today, the number of people being treated for chronic, expensive-to-treat diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, and Alzheimer’s disease and related disabilities is on the rise. It is projected that by 2020, chronic diseases will be the cause of 73% of all deaths.
- Chronic diseases cause 7 out of every 10 deaths.
- Chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and heart
disease are the leading causes of disability and death in the U.S.
- About 25% of people with chronic diseases have
some activity limitations. These include difficulty or needing help with
personal tasks such as dressing or bathing. It may also mean being restricted
from work or attending school.
Those suffering from chronic diseases face rising health care costs. They also receive lower-quality care and have fewer options. Chronic conditions also cost vast amounts of money. Consider these statistics:
- Obesity increases the risk of developing conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. The rate of obesity in adults has doubled in the last 20 years. It has almost tripled in children ages 2-11. It has more than tripled in U.S. children ages 12-19.
- If circumstances do not change, 1 in 3 babies born today will develop diabetes in their lifetime.
- Average healthcare costs for someone who has one or more chronic conditions is 5 times greater than for someone without any
- Chronic diseases account for $3 of every $4
spent on healthcare. That’s nearly $7,900 for every American with a chronic
These chronic diseases drive U.S. healthcare costs at an alarming annual rate:
- Heart disease and stroke: $432 billion per year
- Diabetes: $174 billion per year
- Lung disease: $154 billion per year
- Alzheimer’s disease: $148 billion per year
And as health insurance co-pays and out-of-pocket expenses continue to rise, choices and care are becoming more limited.
In order to treat today’s and tomorrow’s senior citizens, particularly those with chronic diseases, it’s clear that medicine needs to become not only better, faster, and cheaper, but also more prevention-oriented. The country needs a proactive approach to handle this growing population, and to manage healthcare costs that are rising at an unsustainable rate.
Life science companies’ role in addressing the challenges of chronic disease
Tackling chronic diseases begins with prevention. Measures range from early diagnosis and therapies to disease management and health tracking. To achieve best outcomes for each patient, treatments need to be tailored to each patient’s individual situation, including pre-existing conditions such as genomic markers, lifestyle, and adherence to medical instructions.
Life science companies can add value to the fight against chronic disease on various levels by turning away from a product-centric approach towards a more patient-centric model. Life science companies’ vast clinical knowledge can help educate physicians and patients on the best use of their drugs and devices, especially recent, innovative products or personalized drugs and devices.
Life science companies can also support physicians and patients via services that increase adherence to health programs, such as mobile medical devices or health apps.
According to a U.S. survey by Accenture, not all patients are receptive to interacting with life sciences companies, but there is a significant group of patients who are willing to engage and share data with the industry; especially if the interactions are linked with tangible benefits such as financial rewards or free information or services.
When it comes to moving toward a more patient-centric approach, life sciences companies are off to a good start. GSK, for example, states on its Web site that by 2015, it will stop working with individual sales targets in favor of rewarding its sales staff according to their technical knowledge and quality of service for healthcare professionals. Medtronic offers products for connected care that support health monitoring to establish early warning systems against heart failures. Medtronic also aims to improve diabetes management by providing information to all relevant stakeholders in real time.
Life sciences may also be able to contribute to accountable care organizations (ACOs), which are groups of doctors, hospitals, and other healthcare providers who share best practices on maximizing quality of care efficiently. There are several benefits life sciences companies could add, such as educating patients, providing monitoring tools, and working with physicians on how to ensure patient adherence to therapies.
These are only a few of many examples that show that the life sciences industry is shifting towards innovating processes and products in order to improve patient outcomes. In the future, we will see more life sciences companies start initiatives to improve monitoring, as well as change the behavior and lifestyle of their end consumers, by leveraging game-changing technologies such as mobile health, social media, and electronic health records (EHRs). Life sciences companies will have the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to fighting chronic disease by the time today’s Millennials become tomorrow’s seniors.
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This blog was written jointly by Jasjeet Singh and me. I would like to express to Jasjeet my appreciation for his inputs, research, and contribution and thank him for his fantastic engagement!