Digital health is not reaching most seniors.
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Alpha Geek caregivers and health apps -- really?
Who knew that Alpha Geek caregivers may be interested in health startups? Pew’s just-out research publication, Family Caregivers Online, prompted a column in tech pub Gigaom to suggest that health startups should market to Alpha Geek caregivers. These front-running tech types give us a sense of 'what the future will be like.' There are so many mutually exclusive words (health startup, caregiver, alpha Geek) in that phrase that it begs for analysis. Let’s start with the Pew data: 30% of adults play some sort of caregiving role, and eight in ten of these caregivers have access to the Internet, making them ‘online caregivers,’ the majority of whom look for health information more often than online users who are not caregivers. No kidding. This reinforced and is roughly consistent with the National Alliance for Caregiving report of similar in 2009.
Receptiveness to caregiving technologies, yes – but adoption? Alpha Geek? To further understand online family caregivers’ needs, NAC conducted a survey in 2010 that queried them about which technologies of a set of 12 choices they might be interested in using. In that study, the most accepted tech categories – that is, 70% thought they would be very or somewhat helpful -- were personal health record tracking, a caregiving coordination system, and medication management. At the same time, nearly half of responders in that survey were concerned about barriers to adoption -- the technology might be too expensive or the care recipient might be resistant.
What has been the reality with these top categories? Today we’ve got apps. According to a recent USA Today article, there are at least 40,000 medical/health apps out there. Whew. Within those, it seems that personal health tracking is popular. See the quantified self movement. We also have what I would describe as a wave of self-absorbed apps. But as for caregiving coordination, one app, Lotsa Helping Hands, is available. For medication management (with dispensing), there are a number of products ranging from MedMinder to Philips Medication Dispensing Service, GlowCaps, TabSafe, but that market has not boomed. Even as you study the list of suggested caregiving apps from various sites that include AARP and LeadingAge -- what you see is underwhelming. The category of apps for caregiving, and by extension, the health apps for caregiving, must gain more definition and refinement to move past if-we-build-it-they-will-sign-up stage.
So what’s a caregiving health solution anyway? Process matters. For vendors of health tech in the caregiving space, it will matter that they can articulate the multiple stages of caregiving and place a technology on the caregiving continuum. Otherwise, the next app and the next are opportunistic moments without context, wasting development time/money if they fail and surprising inventors if they succeed. So here’s one suggested process for caregiving and health solutions -- they must be able to: 1) Identify and categorize care requirement -- or as NAC refers to it, be able to classify ‘burden of care’ and type of care, including chronic condition, dementia, medication management, and mobility support; 2) Present multiple products and/or solutions that find and vet external care assistance – home and home health care, specialty doctors, clinics, hospitals, long-term care residences; 3) Present solutions that enable assignment of family members to assist; and 4) Stay in touch with a care recipient’s status (as with CaringBridge); 5) Integrate with in-market health solutions.
What a caregiving health solution is not -- an app.