Nearly 1 in 4 American adults supports loved ones, friends, or others as caregivers. They help. They cope. They talk to doctors. They research diseases. And they need support even as they give it, because caregivers often put their own needs on the back burner while caring for someone else.
Caregivers offer physical and emotional support, of course. But their duties often go even further—to help get access to medical care and medications. For some, it’s a hassle, but manageable. For others, it’s a frustrating, gut-wrenching ordeal. To all, it’s an unavoidable part of the patient/caregiver journey.
The power of information helps enormously, as do the tools that help provide it. But before addressing those solutions, let’s look at some of the challenges that caregivers face.
Access to healthcare is a form of caregiving
For the caregiver, the quest for medical care and medications (access to care) can start with one telephone call, which then leads to another. And another and another, with frustration evolving into anger.
Barriers are an intrinsic part of our healthcare system. A health plan needs to manage the costs of its entire population of members. If one drug (even a higher-cost version) provides better medical and financial outcomes than others, the plan will lower the patient’s out-of-pocket cost (co-pay or coinsurance) to encourage its use. Or they may rule that treatment with one or more drugs must be tried and failed before trying another. In either case, the goal is to favor the treatment with the most value.
Healthcare reform is all about promoting value: improving care while controlling costs. Patients and caregivers are becoming more responsible to help make medical decisions, including which medications to take, and they’re being asked to share more of the cost. And no one claims the system is easy to navigate.
Fortunately, helpful new tools are available—and used by many caregivers to ease the journey. The first, most common, and most powerful tool is the Internet.
New tools for caregivers
In a survey of 3,000 adult caregivers, 59% said the Internet has helped them in this role. And over half of the adults surveyed found information online that helped them cope with the demands of caregiving.
The same survey found that most caregivers have a cell phone (not surprising), and over one-third have used it to obtain health information. Caregivers can ask healthcare providers about mobile applications that help track medications taken, report blood sugar and blood pressure readings, and connect directly with healthcare providers.
It’s easy to see how virtual office visits and transmitting files from home can make the caregiver experience easier to help care for patients with chronic diseases.
Electronic health records (EHR): technology becomes the conduit to a larger healthcare landscape
EHRs are another digital advance that can help caregivers. There are many ways that switching to electronic records helps the flow of information between patients/caregivers, doctors, pharmacies, and hospitals. Again, health reform is encouraging its use by mandating its adoption by providers, all with the aim of improving outcomes.
How? Easier access to medical records, better care coordination among healthcare providers, faster, more accurate prescriptions, and fewer unnecessary tests and procedures.
Add the efficiency of EHRs to the many digital mobile tools coming to market today and the result is an array of powerful ways that today’s technology can help make each caregiver’s efforts more efficient and easier. But still far from easy.
John Knutila, associate creative director copy, The CementBloc, contributed.