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Baby boomers are coming: is your practice ready?

November 28, 2011

Optometric practices may not realize it yet, but baby boomers are coming to optometric practices; and they are coming in the millions.

According to M. Thornhill’s, “The Boomer Project,” every day, almost 11,000 boomers turn 50—that’s one every eight seconds. Boomer Marketing News reports that by 2030, there will be more than 70 million Americans over age 65, and baby boomers will be reshaping the health care system for generations to come. 

How will they impact the health care system?

1. Boomers will require more health care services than any other generation before them because the “over 65” population will nearly double as a result of the aging boomers. They will have new technologies and medical services available to them to help them live longer. National Vital Statistic Reports states, at the turn of the last century, U.S. life expectancy was 47 years, now it is estimated to be closer to 77 years.

2. By 2030, more than six out of every 10 boomers will be managing more than one chronic condition. Chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and arthritis will create a demand for continuous medical management in both inpatient and outpatient settings.

3. According to the book “Boomers: The next 20 years,” almost 20 percent of boomers are members of minority populations. Boomers are more ethnically and racially diverse. Delivery systems and staff will need to be sensitive to diversity. Training may be required in diversity to understand how those differences impact care.

4. Boomers are more educated than previous generations. They will be involved in their medical care, ask questions, seek additional information, and may even use alternative methods for their health care needs.

5. Geographically, states such as Florida, Arizona, California, North Carolina, and Texas may experience substantial growth as the “population shift” puts additional demands on these preferred “retirement” states , as reported in the the Del Webb Baby Boomer survey conducted by Harris Interactive.

6. Boomers will be more judicious when purchasing health care services. Even though they may have more disposable income than their parents, they will need to make their retirement savings last for a much longer period of time.

Prepare now and into the future

Optometric practices should be planning strategies to meet the needs of so many new patients in the next decade. Areas to address include:

  • Space – will your office space accommodate more people in the waiting area, clinic area, and dispensary? If new equipment is purchased will there be enough space to fit it into the areas? Does your plan include improvements for increased patient flow to increase your capacity to treat patients in a timely manner and increase patient satisfaction?
  • Workforce shortages – recruiting and retaining paraoptometric staff is critical to meeting the increased needs of the boomer population.  What is your staff turnover rate?  How easy is it to recruit new staff?  Is there an excess or shortage of paraoptometric staff in your area? Will you need to hire another optometrist to meet the needs of caring for so many new patients?
  • Staff training for diversity – are staff prepared to address the challenges of language and cultural barriers?  Will interpreters and outreach workers be needed? Will cultural awareness and sensitivity training be provided for all employees?
  • Technology –new technology can enhance care, but it is very expensive. Is your practice keeping up with the next wave of technology advances?  Are you integrating technology into your future planning? What will be the cost for investments in technology? 

Now is not the time to sit back and wait. Now is the time to start planning. The optometric practice will be required to have more resources, new approaches to vision care delivery, and trained, certified staff in place to meet the needs of this growing population. Indeed, baby boomers will be reshaping the scope of care and the demands put upon the health care system. Will your practice actively engage boomers and their families in the eye care health delivery process or fall short in meeting the demands of this ever-increasing population?

For staff training tools, contact PS@aoa.org or call 800-365-2219, ext. 4108.

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