By Dr. Helmut Schuehsler, Chairman & CEO

Rapidly aging populations

Countries in Southeast Asia (SEA) and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA region) are starting to actively work on future-proofing elder care.

By 2050, the percentage of people over 65 in SEA is expected to double to over 110 million seniors. One of For example, in just ten years, one in four people in Thailand is expected to be a “senior citizen”.

If a country’s population begins to skew more towards the elderly, chronic disease prevalence rises. More iindividuals suffering from cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity, dementia, and other diseases of the elderly require continuous care and support over an extended period of time. However, at this moment in time, the healthcare infrastructure in SEA and MENA is not equipped to handle this burden.

In both regions, building the healthcare infrastructure of the future needs to necessarily give a lot of attention to this development. In the face of a rapidly aging population, rising dependency ratios and an obvious need for new care models the public and private sector alike need to look for new solutions.

From a public health perspective, there is an emerging challenge to address, from an investor’s perspective there is a tremendous investment opportunity into a fast-emerging new market. Addressing this opportunity, however, will require foresight, vision and resilience on the side of investors and intense collaboration between the public and private sectors. Political will and a budget to manage this topic now and in the future is also required if there should be country wide solutions for a broad population across all income levels. Otherwise, improved and extended care for the elderly will be limited to the more affluent and privileged segments of society which is not the outcome we all hope for.

A fast-rising dependency ratio

The dependency ratio is the ratio of non-working people compared to the working population of a country. The higher the ratio, the higher the proportion of non-working people. Singapore and Thailand, in particular, are expected to see steep growth in their dependency ratios over the next decade: In 2020, Singapore is at 35% but expected to rise to almost 80% in just two decades, Thailand currently (2020) is ~ 40% but projected to hit about 75% by 2050. This trend will significantly increase the pressure on the healthcare systems with regards to developing care models and funding models in long-term and senior care​.

Opportunities for private players to offer affordable solutions

Private health insurance penetration is low in the SEA and MENA markets. Publicly-funded hospitals and care centers mainly focus on lower and mid-tier income levels. Many face challenges such as: overcrowding, brain drain of quality healthcare professionals to more lucrative private settings, and poor or outdated healthcare infrastructure.

Governments in SEA and MENA are actively working on improving public health in their countries.  Singapore, for example, is planning to build a community-based network called Community Care Vision 2030. Malaysia is actively encouraging investments in senior living projects and aged care service providers. Privately-owned hospitals are often too cost-prohibitive for the local populations and cater to a higher income and ‘medical tourists’ from other countries.

However, there is a growing market need for affordable healthcare facilities services offering higher-quality care and improved patient experience.

New healthcare service models to leapfrog the elder care challenge  

The elder care market is evolving from focusing on classical nursing homes and general hospitals to a more community-based care model. This means bringing care to seniors in their homes, local communities, and familiar spaces. Community-based health care (CBHC) models can bring much-needed healthcare services to seniors in the comfort of their familiar surroundings, their own home, and within their social support networks.

One of the enabling factors in this development is digital technology which can help to integrate care services, data collection and interpretation, information flow as well as payment process management in elder care. On the side of the care services and how they are performed, the field of IoT (“Internet-of-Things”) is leading the way into more in situ diagnosis and therapy through the deployment of continuous-monitoring wearables that measure vitals and raise alerts, communicate with central support functions, initiate live interactions and much more, all in the name of process integration and improved quality, speed and affordability of care. The integration of care across physical boundaries and between providers, insurers and patients will lead the way into a new way of caring for the elderly.  This emerging segment of healthcare represents a world of opportunity for investors and entrepreneurs looking to impact healthcare for the elderly.

The future of elder care is integrated care models

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines integrated care as “services that are managed and delivered so that people receive a continuum of health promotion, disease prevention, diagnosis, treatment, disease-management, rehabilitation, and palliative care services, coordinated across the different levels and sites of care within and beyond the health sector, and according to their needs throughout the course of life.”

The quality of elder care strongly impacts the effectiveness of integrated healthcare delivery systems across the world.

To develop sustainable solutions in elderly care, investors must have access to and develop:

  • Highly skilled clinical teams led by highly qualified nurses
  • Excellent top-level management to lead and integrate multiple points of care from a patient’s point of view
  • Advanced technologies and expertise to enhance elderly care services
  • Specialized and multi-disciplinary knowledge for different medical verticals who can work together to integrate care models seamlessly, and
  • Awareness of global innovation in elder care, and strategically applying what works best for the SEA region.