Policy, information and communications technology  

Broadband for elderly and disabled could generate billions for economy and cut care costs

20 December 2005

A report by the US New Millennium Research Council shows that accelerated broadband deployment to older Americans and people with disabilities could deliver hundreds of billions of dollars to the economy in potential health care savings and other major benefits.

The report outlines the large cost savings and higher national output that could result from wider introduction of cutting-edge broadband technologies for services such as telemedicine and telework. It also estimates costs savings from expedited broadband in other health care, employment and independent living arenas. The benefits are so great for the elderly and disabled — as well as the entire US economy — that accelerated broadband should be made a much higher national priority than it is today.

As in other developed countries, there has been a boom in the uptake of broadband. At least one in three US households is estimated to have a broadband connection. But the early adopters of new technology tend to be the young. Little attention has been paid to how new technology could benefit the 35 million Americans over 65 and the estimated 36 million under 65 with disabilities. The number over 65 is expected to double by 2030.

New technologies are available that can help healthcare providers and carers look after elderly people in the home. These range from emergency telephone lines triggered by a wireless-linked button on a wristband or necklace, to more sophisticated devices such as, heart monitors, fall monitors and abnormal behaviour detectors that can remotely alert patient-care centres. A telephone-based care service is already used by some social services in the UK, but has limited interaction and uses an ordinary phone line.

The always-on broadband connection would allow much greater use of technology to provide services in the home. The major stumbling blocks in developed countries have been the reluctance of economic ministers to allocate significant budgets for technology for the care of the elderly and the lack of awareness of decision makers in health and social services.

The Millennium Research Council report says that the economic benefits of broadband can come from three main sources: lower medical costs; lower costs from delayed or avoided institutionalisation; and additional economic output by participation in the labour force. The cost savings will come from broadband enabling telemedicine and telecare in the home, such as disease-management programmes that require constant communication between patients and care providers. Elderly people will be able to stay in their homes longer, thus saving costs of expensive residential care. Broadband will also enable some of the elderly and disabled to engage in economic activity.

In the USA, healthcare lags behind every other major service sector in the adoption of information technology. Investment has been directed towards expensive equipment for acute care such as scanners for medical imaging, but at the neglect of routine and chronic care. There is a distinct lack of use of information technology for record keeping, prescription ordering, appointment booking etc, resulting in costly inefficiencies in health care. The patients that could benefit the most from information technology are those with chronic diseases that require continuous monitoring and frequent care. Large investment will be needed to take full advantage of information technology.

Leaving broadband deployment as it is, the estimated cumulative economic benefit is $89-150 billion by 2010, and with accelerated deployment, $163-277 billion. By 2030 the cumulative economic benefit would be $927-1338 under the current situation, and $1459-2185 billion with accelerated deployment. By comparison, the federal government spent about $360bn in 2004 on medical care for senior citizens under the Medicare and Medicaid programmes. With the number of elderly expected to double by 2030 and, in addition, the spending is also likely to increase in real terms 3-4% per year, the cost of Medicare and Medicaid by 2030 is estimated to be over $970 billion at 2005 prices. This will put a large burden on the economy and it is one that every developed nation will have to address.


The New Millennium Research Council

The report can be downloaded as a PDF at

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