Patient Engagement

Caregivers say they want technology. Why aren’t they buying yet?

But there is hope because there is demand for new ways to manage caregiving.

Jeff Makowka (right), director of market innovation at AARP, speaks at MedCity ENGAGE on Oct. 19, 2016. He was joined by GreatCall CEO David Inns (center) and moderator Arundhati Parmar. editorial director of MedCity News.

According to AARP, there are at least 40 million unpaid caregivers taking care of an older, sicker person in the U.S. In a survey the organization conducted, 71 percent of these caregivers — typically family members of the patients — said they would be interested in technology to help provide care, but only 7 percent actually are using such tools, attendees of MedCity News ENGAGE in San Diego heard this week.

Why such a disconnect? “When people are providing care 40 hours a week, they have their routines,” Jeff Makowka, director of market innovation at Washington-based AARP, said. Since many such caregivers also hold down regular jobs, they simply don’t have time to try some new technology, Makowa noted.

But technology can ease the burden on caregivers, Makowka and fellow panelist David Inns, CEO of GreatCall, said. With that in mind, neither is worried about slow uptake of caregiving technology.

“It’s a natural thing … to have delayed adoption,” said Inns, whose company is best known for its easy-to-use Jitterbug cell phones for seniors.

“It’s going to take time” Inns added. He said he would like to see the whole eldercare industry to go out and promote new caregiver technologies.

But there is hope because there is demand for new ways to manage caregiving. Some have created technology hacks to help themselves. Both panelists mentioned that they have heard of caregivers using Google Docs to track medications and other aspects of watching after a loved one.

Makowka told a story of the wife of a senior with dementia using the Amazon Echo digital personal assistant to manage all the repetitive questions the patients asked. The device took some stress off the caregiver by giving simple answers to questions such as, “What day is it?” or “What’s the weather?” Makowka said.

Amazon Echo is a good technology for caregivers because it is so simple to use, Makowka said. “It really needs to be out-of-the-box functional,” the AARP executive recommended.

The panelists also mentioned NimbleRx, a delivery service for prescription drugs, as a big stress reliever for family members.

Inns recommended that product designers keep older consumers in mind when creating their technologies.

Nearly a year ago, San Diego-based GreatCall acquired Lively, maker of a home health monitoring system. Inns has learned since that time that a camera may be a good way to keep tabs on an eldery person who wants to live independently, but some patients might view the camera as intrusive on their privacy.

Indeed, eldercare technology companies still have a lot work to do on refining their ideas.

“No one has ever gotten down right, to my knowledge, fall prevention.” Makowka said. But he remains optimisitic. “Fall prevention is coming — soon,” he added.

Photo: Ivan Hundric