Broadband could be health boon for seniors

More broadband Internet usage could lower medical and institutionalized living costs and make telecommuting possible for senior citizens and individuals with disabilities.

Accelerating Internet broadband deployment in the United States could deliver better health services to elderly Americans and individuals with disabilities and slash overall health care costs, according to a new report released yesterday.

The report, which was written by economist Robert Litan, estimates Internet broadband usage would lower medical and institutionalized living costs and increase labor force participation of more senior citizens and individuals with disabilities through telecommuting.

“Considered together, these three benefits are estimated to accumulate to at least $927 billion in cost savings and output gains in 2005 dollars … over the 25 year period, 2005 to 2030,” Litan wrote in the report, which was authorized by the New Millennium Research Council, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

The estimated savings is equal to half of what the nation spends annually – $1.8 trillion – for medical care for all citizens, he wrote.

Litan is assuming development of all types of broadband technologies, including wireless, broadband via power lines, cable and telephone-based digital subscriber lines, to any type of device, whether it’s a PC, cell phone or personal digital assistant.

In the report, he outlined how digitizing health records or processing claims and other administrative functions via the Web can achieve savings. He also spelled out barriers, such as the fragmentation of the health care industry in using such technology, and the lack of standardization for information and Bush administration efforts in promoting health information technology.

He wrote, the “most important way in which broadband may be used to save medical costs is through integrated monitoring and intervention systems for patients with chronic illnesses,” such as a Veterans Administration chronic disease monitoring program, which has cut hospital admissions by as much as 60 percent and prevented people’s illnesses from getting worse.

As much as 30 percent of all hospital, outpatient and drug costs can be saved through some remote monitoring for the chronically ill, the report states. “Since care for the chronically ill already accounts for 78 percent of total medical costs, a 30 percent saving of costs in this category could reduce overall health care expenses for the United States by roughly one quarter, or about $350 billion annually,” he wrote.

Similarly, the same broadband-based programs to monitor the chronically ill could also be used with home health care to monitor the health of the elderly and those with disabilities to avoid institutionalization, Litan wrote. For example, two-way video can improve interaction between seniors and other people and reduce feelings of loneliness and depression, according to the report.

Broadband technologies can also help senior citizens and people with disabilities to join the workforce through telecommuting. The study estimates the number of people who could benefit from using the technologies to contribute to the economy.

Litan also wrote that government could enact potential policies to spur deployment of broadband technologies and applications and make them more affordable.

The report states 35 million Americans older than 65 years old and 36 million non-elderly individuals live with disabilities.

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