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AARP explores utility and functionality of tech platforms designed for family caregivers

Study focuses on smartphone apps for care coordination, emergency response systems, and online services for in-home aide selection.

Family caregivers can benefit from technology designed to meet their specific care needs, according to an AARP report issued today that details how technology can help caregivers and their care recipients. The report's findings indicate that there is a need in the marketplace for technology products that support family caregivers.

The report, Designing Technology for Caregivers: Understanding What Works and What Doesn't, includes insights from the results of three recent pilot tests of how technologies can help caregivers overcome three identified challenges: care coordination, emergency alerting and selecting and hiring in-home aides.

Family caregivers were recruited from across the United States to participate in the research and were given a technology product to use for up to six weeks - either a care coordination platform, a Personal Emergency Response System (PERS) device, or an online screening tool for hiring paid caregivers - and reported on which aspects of the technology they found most useful, desirable and necessary.

Among the findings:

Care Coordination Pilot: Eighty-six percent of participants felt that technology was necessary to help them coordinate care. Before joining the study, most caregivers relied on simple organization systems (paper-based and/or electronic) that were not designed specifically for caregiving. After using a smartphone-based care coordination platform for 30 days, nearly all participants reported that the product was not designed in a manner that met their care coordination needs. Nearly all participants returned to their former means of care coordination but reported remaining optimistic that care coordination tools could be useful to their caregiving if these functionalities were improved.

Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS) Pilot: Nearly all caregivers reported strong worries about their care recipient's safety, but none of the study participants reported previously using any type of emergency monitoring tool. Three main barriers precluded caregivers from relying on PERS: cost, lack of awareness of market options, and an associated stigma. After using a PERS device for six weeks during the pilot, 85 percent of study participants felt that their peace of mind improved as a result of using the PERS and 90 percent of care recipients felt more independent in terms of their safety and wellbeing.

Home Aide Pilot: Nearly all caregivers (94 percent) expressed a desire to use online services for selecting a home aide and over a third of study participants reported having previously considered using an online service to hire an aide but found it cost prohibitive. Eighty-two percent of study participants found a suitable home aide using the hiring platform tested in the pilot, and 100 percent of those caregivers were satisfied with the care procured through the platform that addressed several barriers to hiring paid in-home care services-costs, vetting/screening, scheduling and compatibility.

HITLAB conducted the research in partnership with Project Catalyst, a program that engages consumers in the innovation process by providing valuable feedback on the functionality and design of products that improve the quality of life for consumers age 50 and over. Founding members of Project Catalyst include AARP, Pfizer, UnitedHealthcare, MedStar Health, and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

"This pilot research engaged with caregivers at varying points in their caregiving experience, enabling us to understand the range of challenges they face and how technology can be used to enhance the care they provide at each stage," said Dr. Alison Bryant, Senior Vice President of Research, AARP. "The findings show that caregivers see an opportunity for technology to better support them, but that the design must consider the unique aspects of caregiving and offer as much flexibility as possible."

Prior AARP research found that 40 million family members across the United States serve as unpaid caregivers for their loved ones and that the majority of them are interested in using technology to improve and streamline the care they give.

"Family caregivers have an important and essential role in the lives of the people we serve and within the overall health care system," said Efrem Castillo, M.D, Chief Medical Officer, UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement. "Technology can provide significant support and peace of mind for family caregivers. We hope this report can help inspire further innovation and solutions for people who care for their loved ones."

"In the process of doing this research, caregivers consistently expressed gratitude to our research team for seeking their opinions, and asking them about their challenges, needs and behaviors. This underscores the need to have caregiver voices more prominently heard when designing technologies to serve them," said Laura Pugliese, Deputy Director of Innovation Research, HITLAB.

The report is available for download here.

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