6 ways tech can improve caregiving and family support

By Government Health IT Staff
10:49 AM

Technology thus far has made only modest contributions to supporting caregivers, the legions of family members and friends who help sustain elderly, disabled, sick and recovering patients.

With that in mind, the National Alliance for Caregiving brought together a panel of national experts and government officials to identify ways technology can improve and advance the field.

The panel examined how technology can play a more meaningful role in helping caregivers, and how innovation can be accelerated to develop new applications to support caregivers.

Among those participating in the roundtable were Jodi Daniel, director of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Adam Darkins, chief consultant for Telehealth Services, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

In July, the alliance released a report on the roundtable discussion, titled, “Catalyzing Technology to Support Family Caregiving.” The group offered six recommendations:

1. Develop better “concept maps” and find more appropriate language to describe the varied and
complex caregiving landscape.

The report said widely held but simplistic perspectives on caregiving impede needed innovations. Good models of caregiving, especially visual concept maps, of caregiving and appropriate language are needed to enable a better understanding of caregiving and to catalyze innovation.

2. Continue to collect extensive data about the prevalence, burden, and impact of caregiving
and the role of technology.

There is a lack of research on family caregivers, especially as technology dramatically impacts caregiving. More current, thorough and accurate data is needed about the diversity of caregiver roles and responsibilities, about what daily caregiving involves, its challenges, and how much it impacts those around the caregiver. Such data is necessary to develop business plans and evaluate solutions.

3. Initiate a broad national conversation on caregiving.
A national discussion is necessary to raise consciousness of caregiving issues and its social and economic impacts, and to explore what kinds of responses are necessary and feasible. Entrepreneurs will be much more inclined to develop new approaches if there is widespread attention on the topic.

4. Develop compelling business cases for employers and healthcare providers to support caregiving.
Employers and healthcare institutions are ideally positioned to help family caregivers. But they require clear business plans to justify their taking action.

5. Provide caregiving coaching as an integral component of all solutions.
Caregivers often lack the time to learn about technologies that may be useful to them. Coaches who are knowledgeable about available technologies and can take the time to understand each family’s unique situation would make it possible for caregivers to get the full benefits of technology solutions.

6. Inspire social conversations about caregiving to encourage more learning and support within
families and communities.

Most caregivers work in isolation that not only deprives them of emotional support from others, but also means that people do not learn from each other’s experiences and knowledge. New ways need to be developed to make conversations about caregiving more normal and less taboo.

The group said technology has the potential to make caregiving much easier and effective. “Technology-based solutions have the potential to lighten the burden that falls on family caregivers,” the report concluded, “particularly by helping them to coordinate the demanding tasks and the complex networks of relationships involved with caring for others.”