5 lessons healthcare can learn about ageing from general business

I was recently invited to deliver a keynote address about ageing and healthcare to a group of 400 medical specialists. A tough crowd and a big challenge.

My first reaction was ‘What on God’s green earth can specialists learn about ageing from a businessman?‘. This became the title of my address.

The thing is, nobody is prepared or properly equipped for population ageing, what the United Nations describes as “ unprecedented, a process without parallel in the history of humanity….”

Governments can’t grasp it, business can’t grasp it and neither can the healthcare industry. Everyone is learning and everyone is scrambling.

So what can these sectors learn from each other? I honed in on 5 key issues I have observed in the business world which I think have relevance to the healthcare industry.


The last ‘ism’ is alive and well in business. Not surprising given the relative youth of people in decision-making positions. But this can have dire consequences when it comes to designing products and services for older people. Our mantra is;

If you design for the young, you’ll exclude the old. But design for the old and you’ll include everybody.

Somewhat surprisingly, medical practitioners are not immune from offending this ‘ism’. Talking-down to older patients or using childish, demeaning language or tone of voice is one example of this.

Silo thinking

Leading edge companies like Apple and Google know the importance of consumer-centric thinking; where all elements of their ecosystem are connected by the common thread of the individual customer. Such companies are extremely rare as most stumble over the divisional, and other corporate silos within their organisation, that prevent them from offering a totally integrated customer experience.

A patient-centric approach to healthcare also needs to overcome entrenched silos and barriers such as the compatibility of IT systems, government and industry regulation and vested interests, data privacy, sufficient funding and of course, local cultures.

Perhaps companies like Google and Apple can (in fact, they already are) tackle this from a top-down or global position using the mobile device as the fulcrum of patient-centricity?

Tech revolution

According to Google’s Consumer Barometer Survey around 40% of people over 55 answered positively to the question; ““If I have the opportunity to do a task digitally I prefer doing it that way.” More evidence to dispel the generalised myth that older people eschew technology. It’s a well known fact that older people are now the fastest growing (and considerable) audience/users of Facebook.

Yet, these older consumers are barely noticed in the online world.

Meanwhile healthcare also has it’s tech challenges according to Baker McKenzie, “Australia’s notable lack of technology in healthcare is a contributing factor to increased costs and lower standards of care”. This situation is echoed globally.


At the Connected Health Conference in 2017, the top 5 tech trends in healthy longevity were identified as;

  1. Virtual assistants
  2. Virtual coaching for chronic conditions
  3. Caregiver apps and social networks
  4. Social robots
  5. Virtual reality

The total experience

Linking all the parts together into a seamless experience for the patient or the consumer remains an overwhelming challenge.

In a marketing sense, this means barrier-free, inclusive customer-experience for adults, regardless of their age and physical condition. We call it Lifetime Customer Experience.

The patient journey and customer journey is seldom linear and never the same but there are some common steps as the figure below illustrates;

RetailOut-patient clinic
Service & support Pharmacy
 Payment/ discharge


Finally, the medical and business worlds come together with a common scourge. A dreaded 6-letter word;


This is one of the most stubborn concepts among older people today. It is born out of negative perceptions of the ageing process often held by older people about themselves.

To the consumer, “Denial” means that products for older people, that respond to the inevitable changes in their physical, sensory and cognitive abilities, are not for them. Marketers beware!

For the patient, denial leads to unhealthy lifestyle practices, ignoring doctors’ advice and medical non-adherence.

I believe the problems require strategies for the short, medium and long term. Longevity strategies that equip the young for the completely different life-course that a 100-year existence will demand. Longevity strategies that will help remove the stigma attached to older age so that the ageing individuals, and society as a whole, can view this stage of life more optimistically.

We all need to embrace ageing, not deny it.