Today more than ever, family caregivers are essential to the healthcare continuum — and, with the aging population and the ongoing shortage of primary care doctors and clinicians, theirimportance grows each day.
According to a 2016 report from the AARP, the majority of long-term care services (LTCS) in the United States is provided by unpaid family caregivers, a term the organization describes as “any relative, partner, close friend, or neighbor” who has a “significant personal relationship with, and provides a broad range of assistance for” older persons (as well as children under 18) with a “chronic, disabling, or serious health condition.”
Estimating that there are about 40 million such family caregivers currently working in the U.S., the AARP goes on to break down the roles of these important individuals. Indeed, family caregivers are tasked with a complex and demanding range of responsibilities that often includes not only direct care for a loved one, but also:
- Managing finances
- Scheduling appointments and check-ups
- Arranging transportation
- Assisting with basic housework
- Managing medication procural and adherence
- Hiring and supervising additional care workers if necessary
“Today's family caregivers also perform complex medical/nursing tasks with little or no preparation or training,” the AARP report adds, while also noting that many of their expenses are unrecompensed, contributing to significant “financial strain.”
Shortage of Family Caregivers Looms in the U.S.
It’s perhaps of little surprise, then, that as these difficulties escalate, fewer and fewer Americans are able to continue serving as family caregivers. And a shortage of these important individuals could, in turn, create a crisis that would reverberate throughout the care continuum.
Even though the “number of informal caregivers in the United States far exceeds the number of paid direct-care workers,” as noted by the Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on the Future Health Care Workforce for Older Americans, “the number of caregivers is declining — a trend that is especially worrisome in light of the fact that the direct-care workforce is already stretched thin.”
Writing for HomeCare magazine, Peg Graham, MBA, MPH also attributes the diminishing number of family caregivers to reasons such as adult children moving away from their hometowns, and the general shrinking nature of today’s families.
If nothing is done about this impending shortage, “lack of family caregivers may render aging at home impossible for many,” Graham warns.
How RPM Can Help Alleviate the Difficulties Facing Family Caregivers
Among the viable solutions for fending off this projected shortage of family caregivers is a greater utilization of telehealth technologies.
“Telehealth tools, broadly defined as technology-based tools that bridge geographic distance, can be a promising method to deliver interventions designed for family caregivers and enhance access to resources and support,” write Nai-Ching Chi, MS, RN, CNS-BC and George Demiris, PhD, FACMI in the Journal of Gerontological Nursing (JGN).
In general, these telehealth technologies include a suite of resources, including online communities and networking apps that help support collaboration, tools to find and vet homecare workers — and, of course, remote patient management (RPM), the form of telehealth that’s perhaps best positioned to ease the burden of the family caregiver. (What’s the difference between the concepts of telehealth and RPM? Find out here.)
“Telehealth technologies are especially important for caregivers living in rural areas or providing remote caregiving,” the JGN authors add, while noting that telehealth tech can “reduce family caregivers’ workload and decrease their stress.”
The telehealth experts at the Care Innovations® RPM Academy agree, pointing out in a video how a successful RPM program needs to be built to accommodate the needs of the family caregiver, whose support directly increases patient engagement and success.
“The family caregiver is often the person who is with patient the most,” Barbara Fullmer, Care Innovations Director of Operations, explains in the video. “And if they are supportive of the patient learning how to manage their condition, if they're supportive of trying new approaches — which is what remote patient management often is — then we know that that patient is going to be successful.”
Barbara goes on to describe the importance of “any supplier of remote patient management programs” to ensure that their solution “is approachable by that family caregiver, considering their needs and their expectations, as well as the patients'.”
Leveraging RPM technology to help meet the needs of family caregivers has long been a central mission at Care Innovations. The company’s Health Harmony RPM platform was created to “help improve the patient’s health while also simplifying the life of a family caregiver,” as company representatives announced in the service’s introductory news release.
“The platform allows for the interaction of family caregivers to monitor their loved ones’ health status and access valuable stress-relief and nutritional advice to manage the daily challenges of caregiving and their own health,” company representatives added. You can learn more about Health Harmony here.
Interested in learning more about how Care Innovations’ groundbreaking RPM platform can help ease the burden of today’s family caregiver — or any other aspect of its power to transform the healthcare continuum? We invite you to contact us here to schedule a complimentary consultation with one of our telehealth experts.