Baby boomers offer a big business opportunity

Randal Charlton, Executive Director, TechTown

Randal Charlton, Executive Director, TechTown

My daughters said that for years I resembled Chester, the “Gunsmoke” deputy who regularly hauled his crippled frame into Marshall Dillon’s office to warn the sheriff that the bad guys were coming.  Now – in my highly-biased opinion – I walk pain-free with the suave arrogance of a runway model thanks to a recent hip replacement surgery.

Few others may notice the change in my gait or similar changes in the way millions of other older people are walking. Approximately 800,000 Americans will have joint replacements this year, and in the last decade approximately 7 million have had procedures. The numbers are rising rapidly as the 78 million citizens born after the Second World War hit 65 and beyond. One market research company estimates the market will be worth more than $9 billion by 2015.

I am told that America leads the world in this field, which is big business for Michigan and U.S. companies that make prosthetics and medical equipment, and also for hospitals, surgeons, physiotherapists and nurses. All this could be good news for Michigan and Detroit and jobs. I also suspect there are some genuine niche opportunities for entrepreneurs looking for a new business idea.

Let’s start with the big picture.

Stryker is a leading public company in the medical device business headquartered in Michigan, but there are others. The Henry Ford Health System and Beaumont Hospital are acknowledged leaders in the field of joint replacements, and there may well be an opportunity to attract medical tourists from oil-rich countries like Saudi Arabia as well as the emerging rich in China and India. Why would they come to Detroit and pay more? Quite simply because American surgeons have dramatically more experience with joint replacements, and experience really counts. Joint replacement surgery is relatively new in both China and India, and in Hong Kong, for example, there is a three-year waiting list. So if you were Chinese and rich, would you wait for years or get a Delta flight to Detroit?

Add to that the five-star hotel-standard service I recently experienced during my surgery, and local hospitals could earn valuable overseas business.

As a patient, I also discovered a host of other services and products that could be opportunities for entrepreneurs. Some examples include CDs and websites that dispense music, motivational talks and advice to help patients prepare for surgery. Qualified post-hospital physiotherapy nurses are essential. Then there are a whole raft of gadgets you need when you get home: walkers and sticks, cushions to raise chair levels, gadgets to help put shoes and socks on, seats for showers and baths, sponges with long handles so you don’t have to twist, exercise guides and equipment for home rehab to build up muscle strength, and taxi services to take recovering patients to and from specialized physiotherapy classes. Every taxi service ought to have vehicles with wide doors, high seats and plenty of leg room.

I will soon be back looking at other business opportunities to help grow the Detroit economy, but hip replacement has been a great learning experience. My big takeaway is that we have world-class medical treatment available in Detroit, and the growing population of seniors represents a massive market opportunity.

For more information on local hospitals that offer joint replacement, go to:

Beaumont Health System

Henry Ford Health System

St. John Providence Health System

Detroit Medical Center


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