For many Western countries, demographic change is becoming a defining issue of our time. As populations age worldwide, the healthcare systems face major challenges meeting the distinct needs of aging populations.
One country that is facing the ever-increasing burden that caring for the elderly places on healthcare systems is Sweden. The Scandinavian people enjoy one of the healthiest and longest lifespans in the world. For women, the average life expectancy is 84 years and for men, the average life expectancy is 80 years. To put that in perspective, for U.S. men, the average life expectancy is 76, while it’s 81 for U.S. women. Sweden is ninth overall for highest average life expectancy across all the countries, and expected to rise further up the charts. Between now and 2060, life expectancy in Sweden is expected to keep on rising. Women’s life expectancy is expected to rise to eighty-nine years and for men that figure is expected to rise to eighty-seven years. If trends in population continue as expected, the pyramid that currently represents the Swedish populace, will look much more like a cylinder by 2050.
As a direct result of the aging population, Sweden is having to rethink its approach to healthcare for the elderly. One approach that is being pioneered is the use of mobile teams to fill the gaps that are emerging in the healthcare of the elderly.
In 2014, Västra Götaland County, the second largest county in Sweden, established permanent mobile teams specifically for the urgent care of people who are sixty-five and older. Called close care teams, the units consist of a mobile palliative care unit, a mobile operational unit, and a mobile doctor service unit. The main point of contact is the mobile operational unit which consists of two nurses, a doctor, and a conversational therapist working on a part time basis.
The members of the team take responsibility for all the care needed, as well as controlling communication with family members. The close care team can discharge people with no urgent need for care, whilst referring the patient to a mobile doctor service for care that is conducted on a regular and monitored basis. Elderly people that are approaching death are placed within a mobile palliative unit.
After a few years in operation, the close care teams produce an average saving per around the $8,000 mark. Importantly, the quality of care for the elderly patients increased. Whether this is the answer to the global problem of aging populations is yet to be seen, but in Sweden, where the burden of healthcare for the elderly is becoming a genuine problem, the rethink seems to be working.