Posted: 18 Jun. 2019 6 min. read

As we live longer and healthier lives, health and life sciences organizations should keep up with our changing needs

By Sarah Thomas, managing director, Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, Deloitte Services LP

I was recently with a friend sitting on a lovely terrace on one of the most beautiful Saturdays I can remember. Looking out over the pretty harbor, we struck up a conversation with a friendly group of people. As is often the case in Washington, the conversation migrated to what we do professionally (I know there are parts of the country where this is generally not the first question someone asks a stranger, but even outside the Beltway, it is a common icebreaker).

One of the women I met that morning turned out to be a geriatric clinical social worker. My friend (an architect who is less familiar with that type of work) asked some good questions about the profession. Rather than jump in with my opinions and years of accumulated thoughts about aging, I decided to sit back and listen. Our new acquaintance said she helps people rethink what achievement looks like, especially as they retire and as success is no longer defined by professional accomplishments. She explained that she helps her clients focus on relationships, experiences, and maintaining a presence out in the world—even if that means using a wheelchair or walker.

Her comments lined up well with our recent research on the future of aging. To get insights on what the future of aging might look like, we spoke with 30 individuals who work in in aging services, policy, innovation, and technology. We discussed how aging might change in the future, what is currently happening that points to those changes, and which societal, policy, scientific, technological, and economic factors will likely change along the path to the year 2040. From our interviews, we found several themes. Here are a few of the many interesting things I learned from this paper.

  1. Middle age is lasting much longer: Our health system has been so successful at treating disease that we now have more people living with (instead of dying from) chronic disease. Having a long life is a relatively new phenomenon.
  2. Our health issues will likely be much different in the future: Imagine (and I so hope) that in 11 years, scientists have developed a vaccine to prevent Alzheimer’s. Maybe a few years after that, we have access to a targeted treatment, vaccine, or therapy for the 10 leading types of cancer. Imagine remote health monitoring and telehealth are the norm, rather than the exception, and that people respond to nudges to eat right and exercise, which can help lower rates of heart disease and diabetes. As we develop more precision treatments, cures, and preventive medicine techniques for existing diseases, some of the experts we interviewed predict we will need to place greater emphasis on mental and behavioral health, suicide, loneliness, social isolation. They explained that depression, loneliness, and behavioral health conditions caused by social determinants could become epidemics in the 2020s and 2030s. Supporting changing needs (physical, social, emotional, and more) as people age, and meeting them in the places where they spend most of their lives (their homes, communities, work, and retail settings) will likely be critical as the sector places greater emphasis on preventing disease and supporting well-being.
  3. Relationships and experiences (will continue to) matter: Researchers have found that in a cohort of otherwise similar individuals, people who have weaker social networks were 50 percent more likely to die earlier than people who are more socially connected. An entire industry dedicated to treating social isolation and loneliness has already emerged. Element3 Health, for example, has created solutions to improve physical, social, and mental activity in individuals. The company’s platform, GroupWorks, connects individuals to group activities based on their social-recreational interests—ranging from arts and crafts to sports and outdoor adventures. The organization says these connections can bring enjoyment, fulfillment, and purpose to their lives. The company says its engagement platform is currently onboarding about 1.5 million members across more than 120 passions. Some governments are also getting involved in this issue. Following a 2017 report that determined nine million people in Britain suffer from loneliness, the prime minister appointed a minister for loneliness.1
  4. More people will likely work past the traditional retirement age: Some of my older friends, and even some parents of my younger friends, are still working—sometimes in jobs they had when they were younger, and sometimes in new ways. As advances in health care help people stay healthy longer, many people are staying in the workforce longer. Some of them are taking advantage of the so-called gig economy.
  5. More people will likely access the health system from home: I know some older people who spend hours visiting doctors, getting tests, and filling prescriptions, all of which involves transportation logistics (even for those who use ride-sharing services), waiting, and keeping track of what was said and what was meant during the visit. As we imagine the future of health, we envision this scenario could change significantly, with most care migrating away from offices and facilities. Instead, we expect to see greater emphasis on information related to health problems, advice, and treatment plans, which will likely be made available through technology.

In the future, we expect that smart homes—enabled by the internet of things (IoT) and always-on biosensors—might become a part of our daily routine. Highly attuned sensors embedded in a bathroom mirror, for example, might track body temperature and blood pressure, and detect anomalies by comparing those vitals to a person’s historical biometric data. An always-on, sensor-driven environment could generate massive amounts of data. But emerging technologies will likely also be needed so data can be continuously gathered, stored by multiple owners, and selectively made available to generate the real-time insights that are essential for personalized, always-on decision-making. This step can be critical to shifting toward a prevention-centric model.

Enabling technology should not stop when people step out of their homes. In the future, communities and services should be set up to support people of all ages and needs. Communities of the future might allow residents to naturally incorporate health and well-being into their everyday lives. Medical and health facilities won’t exist in just once place—they will likely be everywhere as traditionally brick-and-mortar locations shift to mobile-enabled platforms. Community could go beyond the physical structure to focus on virtual communities that support health and well-being. Moreover, many accessibility challenges could be solved as partially, or fully autonomous vehicles become increasingly mainstream. As an added benefit, we could see fewer traffic accidents as a result, which would mean less demand for trauma care.

What does this mean for today’s health care and life science businesses?

Even though I enjoyed thinking about what this future will mean for my own older age and future generations, I think it holds a call to action for our life sciences, health systems, and health plan clients.

A system built on sustaining well-being rather than treating disease could lead to changes in the solutions that companies bring to the market. Business models built around the assumption that costs will rise as people age might not survive this transition. Leading companies should have a strategy for devising new solutions to meet these changing needs. As companies consider the roles they want to play in the future of health and aging, they should decide which solutions are likely to have the greatest impacts on health and well-being.

1. U.K. Appoints a Minister for Loneliness, New York Times, January 17, 2018 (


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Sarah Thomas

Sarah Thomas

Managing Director | Center for Health Solutions

Sarah is the managing director of the Center for Health Solutions, part of Deloitte LLP’s Life Sciences & Health Care practice. As the leader of the Center, she drives the research agenda to inform stakeholders across the health care landscape about key trends and issues facing the industry. Sarah has more than 13 years of government experience and has deep experience in public policy, with a focus on Medicare payment policy.