As the population of Hong Kong ages, the burden increases on family members to provide care. It is crucial to find a way that care can be provided remotely. Telehealthcare and technology will ease the responsibility of elder care on family members who are working, live in different locations, or are experiencing economic or social stressors, allowing Hong Kong to maintain a vibrant, productive workforce without sacrificing elder care.
Hong Kong has one of the best hospital systems in the world. However, there are many elderly who do not need advanced levels of care that require a hospital. This leads to a gap in health care that leaves many Hong Kong elders feeling helpless, even in their own homes.
Hong Kong enjoys a very low mortality rate and one of the highest life expectancy rates in the world. According to the South China Morning Post, in 2014, life expectancy in Hong Kong was 81.2 years for men and 86.9 years for women.
As even more residents reach retirement age, the health system experiences strain. By 2014, one third of the City was over 65 years old, and those who are aged 65+ need on average six times more inpatient treatment as the younger population.
To further complicate this, Hong Kong is facing a shortage of doctors. Elder patients bring with them an increased workload – making the shortage of doctors more acutely felt. According to a recent review, there are shortages in almost all health care professions in the City.
However, Hong Kong’s elder population is morphing into a group that are simultaneously unable to care for themselves, but living longer and longer lives. The Commission on Poverty released recent statistics indicating that the number of elderly living below the poverty line increased by more than 8,000 in one year.
This not only increases the strain on individual families who need to provide care to elders for longer periods of time, but to Hong Kong as a City, too. As the needs of the elder population grow, coupled with fewer workers to pay taxes, Hong Kong will see pressure on their public finances and facilities, including hospitals.
As Hong Kong’s population ages, the dependency ratio quickly worsens, dropping from 4.7 working persons aged 15 – 64 per elderly in 2014, to 1.8 working persons in 2041.
To counteract this – Hong Kong needs to activate the female labor force, a group that historically and traditionally has fulfilled the role as caretaker. Hong Kong is actively working to revamp social and population policies that both empower females to take a more active role in socioeconomic development of the City, and aims to redistribute the burden of elder care.
Hong Kong is rapidly climbing to a place where impoverished seniors lack adequate and timely health care.
Telehealthcare is the solution of the future for Hong Kong.
Hong Kong must rush into the 2020s taking a more holistic, innovative and cutting-edge approach to elder health care.
Telehealthcare, as defined by the study on Age and Ageing as being “remote, automatic, passive monitoring of changes in an individual’s condition or lifestyles,” is a viable option for Hong Kong families who are trying to balance elder care with continuing to be economically contributing members of society.
In a study of cancer patients suffering from pain and depression, telehealthcare significantly increased their quality of life compared to normal healthcare methods.
Telehealthcare programs are not just limited to sick patients, but have even show to aid even 100% elderly residents as they focus on all-around wellness and safety.
While the technology around telehealthcare is still developing, increased access and familiarity with technology is paving the way for families to be comfortable with telehealthcare and inclined to take advantage of the programs.
Here are two ideas:
Healthcare “pods”– This idea includes having stations similar in size to a photo booth that provide long distance patient/clinician care, contact, education, and advice. These booths would be placed at a multitude of accessible public places. The booth or “pod” would be able to run different tests on the patient (such as blood pressure, heart rate, etc.) and would provide an interactive video consultant session with doctors. The public, instant nature of these pods provide greater access to healthcare for elders who may be limited by mobility or means, cutting down the distance needed for patients to travel. In an urban city like Hong Kong, this also eases a possible over burden on public transportation. This would be marketed to include the general public, not just elders, making it a more efficient use of City and healthcare funds.
Skin Sensors- This technology is still in development but has the potential of being incredibly beneficial. A flexible, thin band of sensors and electronics would be placed on the skin to measure blood flow. The targeted market would be elders and the disabled. One problem of the healthcare system in general is that it is reactive. Skin sensor technology would allow healthcare providers to instead be proactive by helping monitor the health of patients at all times, even when they are not at their clinics or hospitals in person. These sensors would relay information to doctors and notify them of any irregularities, decreasing dependency on and relieving pressure from doctors. The constant, real-time data collection would help to proactively detect health issues, and in turn, allow patients to receive earlier and more effective treatments. This would also save large amounts of money and time for patients and doctors as they are able to being the examination remotely all while catching the early stages of illnesses faster. More information on the technology can be found online.