Caregivers make the world go round. Defined as those who look after their loved ones in times of illness and need, a caregiver can be a family member, a friend, or a paid individual. Needless to say, caregivers may have one of the most difficult jobs out there.
The care team, or the group of individuals that directly participate in the care of a patient, traditionally includes only clinical or formalized roles. These can include physicians, registered nurses, nutritionists, clinical psychologists, and social workers. Two major trends in health care have reshaped how we define the care team and, accordingly, the need to design tools that recognize caregivers as essential members of this team.
1. Health care is shifting outside of the healthcare setting
The title of “patient” represents only one facet of an individual’s life. Our responsibilities, duties, and identities continue outside of the healthcare setting, regardless of what diagnosis may arise. The majority of living with a disease does, after all, occur outside of the healthcare setting. A quick glance at new trends in hospitals and new developments in technology show that health care is moving outside of the hospital and into communities and homes.
First, hospitals are seeing a steady decline in inpatient admissions and a rise in outpatient care. This trend is driven by a number of factors, including increased pressure to lower the cost of health care from consumers, insurers, and government alike. Steady advancements in technology have allowed for certain high cost procedures to be conducted through lower cost equipment, by lower pay grade staff, and in lower cost settings. Hospitals are also implementing telehealth and remote monitoring programs that follow patients after discharge from the hospital.
Secondly, the market for tools to manage personal health at home is experiencing exponential growth. These self management products and devices range from wearable devices that track physical activity, e.g. Fitbit, to apps that track nutritional intake, e.g. My FitnessPal. All in all, we are seeing health management - and the responsibility that comes with it - being brought closer to the individual and their home.
2. Caregivers are being recognized as an essential resource to improve outcomes
Thirty nine percent of adults provide care for a loved one . That makes 93 million family caregivers today in the US, who will provide an estimated 522 billion dollars in care for their loved ones . Researchers, physicians, nurses, and patients alike have come to recognize caregivers as an important part of the care team. However, the current system does not necessarily incentivize investment of time in caregiver education, engagement, or support. The value of caregiver support is clear; however, providers and patients alike consistently emphasize caregiver burden, risk of burnout, and the need for strong caregiver support networks.
As health continues to move outside of the health care setting, companies will do well to look to the established, trusting relationship between caregivers and their loved ones. While the internet is rife with data, few tools truly translate this data into meaningful, actionable information. Regular people should not require a medical or policy degree to care for their loved ones. And as arguably one of the heaviest lifters and most informed participants in the care of a patient, they cannot be left on the sidelines.
A majority of the daily challenges that caregivers face cannot be solved with technology. For the challenges that can, caregivers deserve tools designed to fit a lifestyle that exists beyond diagnosis, conducted in a language that they can understand.
1. Fox S., Maeve D., and Purcell C. (2014). Family Caregivers Are Wired for Health. Rep. Pew Research Center, 20 June 2013.
2. Amalavoyal C., Engberg J., and Ray K. (2014). The Opportunity Costs of Informal Elder-Care in the United States: New Estimates from the American Time Use Survey.