As our population ages, how can we rein in rising costs?

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In today’s world, infectious and acute diseases are waning, whereas chronic and degenerative illnesses like strokes, diabetes, and cancer – all of which require prolonged care – are on the rise. This is in no small part due to the fact that the global population is aging, with the number of adults over 80 forecast to triple by 2050, reaching nearly 434 million.

As health care needs increase and the “economic imperative” (as characterized by the World Health Organization) to reduce expenditures grows, making aging economically sustainable is one of the largest challenges facing governments, industry, health systems and, not least, individuals. Chris Moore, EY Partner and Life Sciences Advisory Sector Leader in EMEIA, summed it up recently at the FT Digital Health Summit Europe 2016: “We face an aging population who, if it doesn’t manage its exercise and diet, is at a strong risk of extensive chronic diseases such as diabetes or cardiovascular problems. We need to deal with the problem before it becomes a problem.”

Many in the health care industry believe that the growing wealth of data collected through health devices can help this preventative effort. A variety of new consumer products and prototypes can provide immediate information about an individual’s health conditions and risks, measuring parameters such as heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and respiration rate. Moore believes that data collected through health wearables could increase people’s awareness, encourage prevention, and help manage chronic diseases, ultimately reshaping the global health care landscape.

But this could happen only if patients take a more proactive role in their health care decisions – and if everyone involved in health care works to build trust.

As EY’s Health Reimagined study suggests, health care systems should reshape themselves to encourage patient participation and health literacy. The goal would be a participatory health system, in which citizens take active responsibility for their well-being and can collaborate as an equal partner in shared clinical decision-making with providers.

For this to happen fully, the study argues, digital health devices should also offer social networking and dynamic web capabilities, creating the channels through which consumers can find information and share experiences with each other, their caregivers, and their doctors.

Moore emphasizes that companies can play an important role in the shift, explaining that, “many organizations now realize that the more they can do to encourage people to exercise and manage their diet through wearables or even company exercise plans, the more they can keep their workforce fit and well, and avoid longer-term costs of health care.”

To be successful, “people must be empowered to manage their care,” Moore adds. “Digital health is not just an app, it’s about making patients part of a bigger social scenario, recognizing what motivates them, and then tailoring the treatment.”

On the receiving end, providers, historically wary of patient-provided data, should understand that today’s devices – such as simple sleep monitors that attach to a mattress – could provide accurate, useful information. Using that data properly can potentially help make age-related diseases more predictable and affordable.

“Building trust in patient-generated sensor data could be the key to sustainable health care,” says Pamela Spence, EY’s Global Life Sciences Leader.

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This article was produced on behalf of EY by the Quartz marketing team and not by the Quartz editorial staff.