Report Looks at Home Caregivers and Potential of Digital Health Technologies

MeHI-Sponsored Research from MassINC Highlights Ways that Emerging Technologies Can Address Challenges Faced by Home-Based, Non-Professional Caregivers

The Massachusetts eHealth Institute at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MeHI) (@MassEHealth) hosted an event to launch a new research report undertaken by the MassINC Polling Group focused on the attitudes of caregivers in Massachusetts toward digital health technologies, identifying challenges faced by these caregivers and ways that they could benefit practically and emotionally from future technologies. The report, Caregivers and Digital Health: A Survey of Trends and Attitudes of Massachusetts Family Caregivers,” found that over 60 percent of those surveyed said being a caregiver disrupts their lives “a great deal” or a “fair amount,” with many feeling isolated due to the constant 24/7/365 stress of that lifestyle, and also found that digital health technologies could assist with certain challenges.

The new report was launched during a morning event at an innovative Boston-based digital health firm, Iora Health. The study was sponsored by MeHI and conducted by the MassINC Polling Group, which surveyed an online panel of 700 non-professional caregivers who live in Massachusetts. The research identifies key challenges faced by Massachusetts family caregivers and offers insights that can help digital health innovators and entrepreneurs develop solutions to address these challenges.

“We have a world-leading digital health entrepreneurial ecosystem, engaged caregiver groups, and thoughtful policymakers. If these groups work together, Massachusetts can develop new products that both improve the lives of unpaid caregivers and grow our economy,” stated Tim Connelly, CEO of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative.

“The survey shows that caregivers experience incredible strain, on their time and their emotions,” said Steve Koczela, President of The MassINC Polling Group, which conducted the survey for MeHI. “Much of what they are dealing with is just juggling everyday tasks. Technology that can help them organize and simplify could make a big difference, though they may not know to go looking for it.”

The study found that, rather than struggling with providing direct care for a loved one, those surveyed most commonly struggled with balancing the demands of being a caregiver and having outside lives. The research also found that:

  • The most appealing technologies for these home-based caregivers are those that can:
    • Serve as a platform to facilitate peer-to-peer support;
    • Provide access to medical records and/or resources; or
    • Manage and/or consolidate tasks and time.
  • Caregivers are either unaware of the options available to them – OR – are aware of too many options and do not know how to choose between them, with 56 percent stating they haven’t found technology that fits their specific needs; and
  • Caregivers are not anti-technology and showed little fear of technology, with 96 percent reporting they go online daily.

MeHI commissioned the report in its role as the Commonwealth’s point agency for the Massachusetts Digital Health Initiative, a comprehensive public-private partnership which aims to accelerate the competitiveness of the Commonwealth’s digital healthcare cluster, which includes spurring the creation and growth of Massachusetts companies.

“This research is the foundation for a statewide conversation around the role that technology can play in a major health and economic challenge for Massachusetts: helping improve the lives of caregivers,” stated Laurance Stuntz, MeHI Director. “We are grateful to MassINC, to the caregivers who provided feedback, and to our partners in the Legislature and Baker-Polito Administration who advised us or are engaged with us on this opportunity.”

These are critical healthcare and economic issues for the Commonwealth. As the Baby Boom generation ages into retirement, more and more non-professional caregivers are facing the challenges and stresses of caring for a loved one. Digital health technologies could be used to address many of the challenges identified in the report, including adverse health complications that caregivers themselves face. New tools can help build communities for peer-to-peer interaction, improve the ability for caregivers to monitor health and medications, or assist in managing everyday tasks, potentially helping caregivers feel more organized and in control.

While technology will not be a panacea for every issue faced by caregivers, the results show that there are market opportunities for digital health companies interested in helping address the demands of caregivers, both in Massachusetts and nationally. According to the AARP, Massachusetts has over 650,000 family caregivers who provided 786 million hours of unpaid care to seniors or children, unpaid care that is valued at approximately $11.6 billion annually. Nationally, AARP estimates that are more than 43 million adults who provide unpaid care to another adult or to a child, care that equates to an economic value of more than $470 billion annually.

Policymakers and health professionals can work with entrepreneurs, researchers, caregivers, and patients to support the development of these important solutions. The Commonwealth has prioritized finding ways to support healthy aging in Massachusetts, including the establishment of the first Governor’s Council to Address Aging in Massachusetts, an effort which will include a focus on caregivers and innovative technologies that can assist them. In December 2016, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker also signed into law the CARE ACT which addresses the “family caregiver’s role when their loved one is hospitalized.”

“Family caregivers often are the cornerstone of care for adults aging in community” said Secretary Alice Bonner, PhD, RN, of the Executive Office of Elder Affairs. “This report provides valuable insights into the needs of caregivers across the Commonwealth and the role that digital health technology can play in supporting this vital role.”

Visit the MeHI website to download a copy of the full study, as well as an infographic detailing key findings from the report.

About the Massachusetts eHealth Institute:
MeHI, or the Massachusetts eHealth Institute at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, is the state’s entity for healthcare innovation, technology, and competitiveness and is responsible for advancing the dissemination of health information technology throughout Massachusetts, including the deployment of electronic health records systems in healthcare provider settings and connecting them through the Mass HIway, the statewide health information exchange.

About the Massachusetts Digital Health Initiative:
Launched in January 2016, the Massachusetts Digital Health Initiative is a comprehensive public-private partnership to accelerate the competitiveness of the Commonwealth’s digital healthcare cluster. The Initiative brings together leaders from technology, health care, and government to address gaps in the digital healthcare ecosystem. The Initiative is led by a collection of collaborating organizations from both the public and private sectors, including the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership (MACP), the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development (EOHED), the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS), the Massachusetts eHealth Institute at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MeHI), the City of Boston, MassChallenge, and TechSpring.

About The MassINC Polling Group:
We are a full-service survey research company offering public opinion research to public, private, and social sector clients. We are the polling provider for WBUR, an NPR station in the Boston area, a partnership that began in 2011. We offer the highest quality research products based on the very best research methodologies and the most rigorous analysis.