By David Lee Scher, MD
The caregiver is an individual who attends to the needs of a child or dependent adult.
There is an estimated ten million caregivers over the age of 50 caring for their parents in the USA. Caregivers attend to people who are predominantly relatives (86%), with 36% being parents and 14% being children. One third of caregivers take care of two or more people. Much has been said about the need for patient engagement and people taking more responsibility for their own care, however caregivers have the unique responsibilities of their own care as well as their charged. That being said, they require mHealth tools that address both issues. I will discuss the role of mHealth and the role of the caregiver. This will not be an endorsement of any specific product.
There is a growing source of information and support for caregivers by the government and other organizations. Some of these resources are: U.S. Administration on Aging, National Institute on Aging, CAPS: Children of Aging Parents, and http://www.mhealthtalk.com/link/.
mHealth is short for mobile health (or in the case of this website, modern health) and refers to the practice of medicine and public health using mobile communication devices, such as mobile phones and tablets, for health-related information and services.
Wireless technology is a significant step towards improving the delivery of care to dependents of caregivers as well as assisting the caregivers themselves. The range of technologies available to caregivers spans free mobile apps to some costing hundreds of dollars per year. They may be arbitrarily divided into information storage, medication and patient management/educational. The informational storage apps are sources of readily available medical information that must be entered and updated. The information may be provider demographics and phone number, insurance company and policy number, and medication lists and renewal dates/reminders. Others are medication reminder programs that involve the caregiver with reminders and some have feedback from the patient, as well as prescription renewal reminders and calls. Educational apps provide educational information from caregiving resources to how to handle an emergency.
Wireless technology’s benefit to caregivers will have a great economic impact in a few ways. It will decrease stress on caregivers which may ultimately contribute to negative consequences on their own health. In addition, there will be decreased loss of worker productivity (the average caregiver age is 48) due to decreased office visits they need to accompany the patient to. The benefits of mHealth to the patient will hopefully decrease the occurrence of acute medical problems by better maintenance of the chronic condition. This will obviously impact the caregiver in a positive manner as well.
So in presenting wireless technologies to payers and others, the impact on the caregiver must certainly be taken into account. This aspect of the technology should be considered from the design, workflow, education, and business model standpoint. While some technologies are targeted directly to caregivers, the majority are targeted to the patient. The patient, caregiver, and society as a whole will benefit from mHealth.
About David Lee Scher, MD
Dr. Scher is a medical pioneer (earliest adopter of remote patient monitoring and interoperability with EHR), a lifecycle contributor to development of new technology and regulatory approval as a clinical investigator, and a Medicare Carrier Advisory Committee member. He writes a blog on mHealth and can be reached by email or through Linkedin.
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