Demographic Trends Help Hospitals Plan for the Future

Julie Shenkman
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One hospital CEO in New Jersey feels his industry must take into account demographic trends when hospitals move forward with initiatives for patient care. Appropriate hospital planning includes services catered toward population shifts, access, transportation and specialized care.

Richard Freeman, CEO at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital-Hamilton, told members of the MIDJersey Chamber of Commerce that patients of the future have "a way of living that's different from ... today." He continued to say that hospital planning and business planning in general must accommodate demographic trends, or firms will become irrelevant to the populations they serve.

To that end, Freeman's hospital discontinued inpatient obstetrics services because trends show an aging population in their service area. Women of child-bearing age will go below 50,000 by 2019, and more than 65,000 women will be older than 45 by that same time frame. The hospital's demographic research shows services trending toward older populations rather than younger ones. This same type of research led the hospital's founders to build their facility on farmland in Hamilton in the 1960s, back when the township was a farmer's field outside of Trenton, N.J. Hospital planning made the new hospital a successful venture back then, and shuttering obstetrics services shows the hospital is "forward thinking," notes Freeman.

The Affordable Care Act forces hospital planning to become creative. Because of new laws, some hospitals merged services because patients choose outpatient clinics and centers to avoid emergency room visits for non-emergency situations. This shift in services saves time, money and resources for health care providers, insurance companies and patients alike, leading professionals like Freeman to believe that less expensive services — without sacrificing quality — should be the hallmark of future health care models.

Other in-demand services include orthopedics, wellness and worker's compensation programs. Hospitals must diversify current services to remain viable, and hospital planning in 2014 is the way to get ready for the future. Instead of taking care of patients when they are sick, Freeman suggests the health care industry must reach out to people when they are healthy. Wellness, nutrition, psychology, preventive and exercise programs should become a new normal for health care services, in addition to helping patients get through illness, injury and surgery.

Health care jobs are also adapting to future trends and focusing on the Affordable Care Act. Home health and doctors' office positions have been part of more than 1 million new health care jobs created since 2010, due to the ACA. Contrarily, hospital hiring has been flat for 4 years. RWJ's statistics mirror this trend when 87 jobs may be lost because of the obstetrics department closing its doors. Mergers and acquisitions also reduced staffing numbers at hospitals between 2009 and 2012. Decentralized trends in health care are critical to agencies moving forward as populations spread out, become less mobile and get older in the next 20 years.

Hospital planning is a vital part of the science behind health-care initiatives. Like any good business model, hospitals that are prepared for the future will do well, and those that do not take demographic shifts into account will falter.


Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at



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