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A call to action -- educate caregivers about tech they can use
National Alliance for Caregiving's study -- very revealing. In January, NAC published a report sponsored by United Healthcare which surveyed how caregivers view technology.* The 1000 online responders were all caregivers (providing at least five hours per week of unpaid care) and already were users of some sort of tech, as little as doing online searches for information. The report views these as 'technology-using caregivers', a somewhat alarming label in the context of their responses:
- Some tech held possibilities but barriers loomed large. While more than two-thirds thought that personal health record tracking, a caregiving coordination or medication support system could be very or somewhat helpful, nearly half saw barriers to use -- the biggest obstacle was perceived expense. Symptom monitor and transmitters (aka chronic disease monitors); interactive software that could engage care recipients in games or audio books; or a video phone (or Skype-like) system -- all viewed with some enthusiasm, but worry about resistence from the care recipient. The remaining technologies had either a lower perceived usefulness or appeared useful but barriers would prevent likely use: these tech categories included caregiver training simulations, caregiving decision-support tools, passive monitoring, caregiving coaching software, a transportation display, and caregiver mentor-matching.
- Responder attributes influence tech potential. The report characterizes the responders in terms of their burden of care, whether they are early or late adopters of technology, income, distance from caregiver, and age (of caregiver and care recipient), among other attributes, and throughout the analysis of perceived benefits and barriers, identifies whether these factors and others influenced how responders viewed any of the 12 technologies described in the survey. For example: 78% of those employed full-time are receptive to using a smart phone to help with caregiving.
- If cost were not a perceived issue, tech list is re-sorted. When asked if they could have a technology at a 'nominal' cost, would they use, the list in descending order: video phone, passive monitoring, caregiving decision support tool become the top three they would very or somewhat likely try. And when their burden of care (amount and type of caregiving tasks) is factored in, those with medium to high care burdens were more interested in remote monitoring, for example (61% versus 43%) than those with a low burden of care.
- Ah, irony -- caregivers' trusted sources don't provide tech guidance. Somewhat ironically, a health professional is the most trusted source for influencing whether a technology is useful -- but do health professionals offer guidance about technology? A how-to guide ranked next -- again, where you might be likely to pick that up? More irony -- the most trusted websites, WebMD and MayoClinic.com -- followed by the Medicare or Administration on Aging -- offer virtually nothing to guide use of any of the 12 technologies. A consumer review website would be great -- but these technologies aren't reviewed on the most well-known, Consumer Reports. However, on the plus side, Caring.com has a recent post on tools for long-distance caregiving.
What's it mean -- better marketing to dispel misinformation about barriers. In a study in which the responders are all online, it was discouraging that they showed such lack of awareness about the existance of technologies that could provide benefit at reasonable cost (or no cost). It was unfortunate that their trusted sources of information offer so little guidance about useful technology. So when vendors attend caregiving conferences like Fearless Caregiver, for example, or the Alzheimer's Association, why not band together with other attending vendors to create a simple brochure about what you all bring to the table -- collectively. Hold onto that brochure, produce multiple versions of it and bring it to conferences that feature health professionals (HIMSS), geriatric care managers (NAPGCM), and the American Telemedicine Association. There is too much already out there to help caregivers for them to be deterred by ignorance of their most trusted resources or perceived barriers that don't exist. This must certainly represent an opportunity for AgeTek vendors, already talking about combining resources to better market on their members' behalf.
* Full disclosure: I was one of multiple outside consultants who offered feedback on the study as it was being formulated.