While physicians and other healthcare professionals are the primary resource for healthcare needs and treatment, informal caregivers – family members or others – often play an important role in ensuring continuity of care. In fact, more than 21% of American adults are providing care to family members or others (some reports are even higher), and nearly a quarter of them help care for multiple people, including parents, grandparents, and children, and other seniors and loved ones. Their involvement can range from handling regular health appointments to managing chronic diseases and mental health conditions to dealing with acute care needs, all while maintaining and monitoring critical health information.
On average, caregivers spend 32 hours a week on their care responsibilities – that’s almost a full-time job – which can take a toll on their own work and personal lives. Three-quarters say they have cancelled or put other activities on hold due to their caregiving responsibilities, including giving up hobbies, saving money, going on vacations, exercising, and advancing their own careers. Inevitably, that can take its toll on caregivers – psychologically and/or physically.
As we have seen these past several months, though, technology has a very real place in healthcare, and can help deliver care conveniently and effectively. In fact, 71% of caregivers are interested in technology to support their caregiving tasks. Many of the technologies that are already being used to connect physicians with patients can also help caregivers support their family members, while allowing those caregivers to live their own lives as well.
Ways Connected Health Technologies Can Support Caregivers
Patient Treatment Adherence
Some applications use alarms or other notifications to remind patients to take their medication. Other applications and connected devices enable tracking of medication intake, which can keep both providers and caregivers informed. Activity trackers and other similar devices can track motion, helping caregivers monitor adherence to physical activity regimens that may be part of treatment plans. This can all help reduce the burden of constantly having to remind care recipients to follow their treatment programs.
A variety of remote patient monitoring devices can help keep caregivers informed about patients’ health status. These can include vital sign monitoring to provide real-time updates if conditions change, alerting both physicians and caregivers to potential problems, including emergency situations, such as a stroke or heart attack.
Alerts for Falls and Injuries
Each year, 29% of older adults experience a fall, but most don’t report it to their doctors. Fall detection devices and other wearable technology can identify falls, as well as stumbles or other irregular motion, and alert caregivers so they can provide necessary assistance or alert the care team in assisted living or other facilities.
Whether patients are living with caregivers or not, telehealth visits can provide a convenient alternative to in-person visits for routine check-ins, questions, and follow-ups. Virtual visits reduce the costs and time of traveling to doctors’ offices, requiring caregivers to take less time away from work or other engagements. Virtual visits can also make it easier for patients who have difficulty getting to their physicians’ offices, whether due to lack of transportation or physical mobility issues. Patients and caregivers don’t even have to be in the same place – caregivers can join virtual appointments from anywhere so they can stay updated on patients’ conditions and treatment plans. If needed, multiple physicians can participate in virtual sessions to better collaborate on treatment for patients with multiple needs.
Patient Portals and Apps
The ability to schedule appointments – virtual or in-person – online can be a huge benefit. Caregivers are able to accomplish these tasks at any time, rather than having to take time away from their own jobs during office hours. The ability to leverage digital channels for information exchange and access – from patient information to treatment details to general information about conditions – can make it easier for caregivers to manage patient needs.
There’s no question being a caregiver can be a burden. Connected health technology, though, can help reduce that burden, while improving continuity of care. Increased engagement, monitoring, and information exchange through connected health can reduce the chances of complications that could lead to hospitalization and can ultimately improve the quality of life for both patients and caregivers. Consequently, the burden on healthcare providers can also be reduced.
For more information on how connected health solutions can help provide better quality care by keeping providers, patients, and caregivers connected, contact us.