Fifty years ago, hundreds of thousands of young people converged on a small farm in upstate New York to commune with nature and with each other and to listen to music that remains popular today. This 3-day summer gathering, known as Woodstock, changed and defined the generation now referred to as baby boomers.
Those 20-somethings who took part in Woodstock are now 70-year-olds struggling with health issues that typically come with age, including cataracts and dry eye disease. In the years since Woodstock, the computer went from a miracle of science to a ubiq- uitous part of everyday life, and air travel evolved from a luxury for the privileged few to just another mode of transportation. These life experiences have shaped how baby boomers perceive the delivery of their health care today.
Each day over the next 10 years, 10,000 baby boomers will become eligible for Medicare. That’s a phenomenon never before seen in this country, and these individuals will access the health care system with unprecedented wealth. Owning 80% of all the personal assets in this country, baby boomers represent the richest generation in US history. They are also much more willing to spend money on themselves compared with the generations before and after them, which is great for ophthalmic providers, although there are a few caveats.
For example, I’ve always thought that the biggest challenge facing ophthalmology and optometry today is managing patient expecta- tions, and baby boomers are proving me right. Comments such as “I was hoping for 20/10” or “Risks? I thought cataract surgery had been perfected by now” are becoming commonplace in my examination room. These remarks are a far cry from those of older patients, who would say, “Well, you did your best” or “I baked you a pie as thanks for performing my cataract surgery!” Technological advances and improving skill sets are making it possible for eye care practitioners to meet patient expectations the majority of the time. Sometimes, however, the limitations of medicine just cannot be surmounted, leaving providers occasionally to deal with a disappointed patient.
All that said, I really enjoy taking care of young-at-heart former hippies. They have some great stories, and we like the same kind of music. Plus, doesn’t everyone wish he or she had been at Woodstock? It looks like the next 10 years are going to be a pretty groovy time for ophthalmic providers. Outta sight, man!
— Mark Kontos, MD
Co-Chief Medical Editor