(c) Carolyn Hartley, Co-Author, The Caregiver’s Toolbox
Sleep will be interrupted three or four times tonight as an aging, restless parent gets up to use the bathroom. You listen for the rattle of the front door, grateful that your husband installed the double bolt so that Dad won’t wander the neighborhood in his pajamas again.
In the morning, you pour an extra stiff cup of coffee, take Dad to the Adult Day Care center so that you can put in an honest eight hours of work and keep your project moving forward. Your co-workers depend on you to carry your load, and frankly you wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s what you are made of. Responsible, mature, decision maker, spiritual, and loyal. You carry your weight. Your supervisor doesn’t know how much you can pack into your lunch hour: pick up your Dad’s medication, run to the dry cleaners, make sure your neighbor can still pick up your daughter from middle school, and nibble a power bar.
You keep a low profile so you won’t’ be overlooked for a promotion or downgraded to a job far beneath your capabilities. Your caregiver commitment presents major risk factors to your health, to your employer’s benefits for not recognizing you as the backbone of our health care and long-term services, and also to your employer if the company has to replace you. It’s not that taking on this much was your choice, but frankly, you’re not sure where to find help.
In the last decade, health organizations from the Centers for Disease Control, AARP, AMA, and the National Alliance for Caregiving have raised awareness on caregiving as a public health crisis. Caregivers are getting sick trying to hide what they do for family from what they do for company. Poor nutrition, social isolation, a rise in substance abuse. Health care cannot function without caregivers. The message hasn’t been lost on employers, now looking at caregiving programs to sustain and nurture caregiver employees, most of whom are incredibly capable project managers in the prime of their working career.
These same employers are now looking to offer a caregiver program as a recruiting tool to entice some of the brightest employees, who also happen to care for a loved one, to join their organization.
Tech Companies Poised To Help Caregivers
The need to help caregivers has not gone unnoticed by lesser known, but deep pocket technologies and mobile apps. The average age of a caregiver has started to drop from 45 to 38. In African American and Hispanic families, the caregiver might even be a twenty something.
The new breed of caregivers are relatively competent with smart phones and portable computers. Mobile apps serve as the liaison between home and work, helping busy managers stay focused on productivity. When needed, the apps become the liaison between presenteeism and absenteeism. These mobile apps can shorten a disruption that can be managed with a phone call rather than leaving work for several hours.
Like our caregiving friends and colleagues, my co-author of The Caregiver’s Toolbox and I were not prepared to be caregivers. Most of the time we were winging it, balancing work, family events, and a few good meals now and then. Mobility and health apps became our #1 resource for finding information, like the time I was 1,200 miles away but saved my mom’s life by accessing panic level lab results on a fax that neither her oncologist nor her family physician had read. In our research, Peter Wong and I tested apps, reliable clinical websites and tools before writing them into our book, The Caregiver’s Toolbox.
Our most frequently asked question? “What are the best apps we should consider if we are caregivers balancing work and family?”
Here are four. While there are 100s of tools we tested, try these out first. Let me know if you like them or if you found an app that has been helpful to you.
FollowMyHealth. Free. This is a patient portal connected to my network of health care providers, including my primary care provider, hospital, radiology, and my women’s health physician. The health network determines which patient portal I can use based on the electronic charting system they select. From my patient portal, I can see updated vitals that the nurse just took when I walked into the clinic, medications that my physician just ordered, and lab results that my physician just reviewed. I also can make or confirm an appointment, add a connection to some wearable devices, and if I was managing diabetes, I also could connect my glucose meter results to the portal. FollowMyHealth offers a secure app on my phone and iPad that also provides the same access to health information.
As a caregiver, I can access the same information about my loved one IF I provide a durable and medical power of attorney or if my loved one signs a proxy (Authorization form) giving me permission to view or discuss medical events with health care providers. I stored legal documents, medication lists, family medical histories, past surgical and medical conditions, and emergency contacts on my portal. I loathed filling out paperwork for each physician who scheduled my Mom for treatment. Since patient portals all use the same format, I printed her medical record and brought it with me to the reception area.
Depending on your health network, your patient portal could have a different name, such as MyChart, MedFusion, or AthenaCommunicator.
A patient portal is the #1 most important mobile app for you and also for the loved one you care for.
iTriageHealth. Free or low cost to subscribers. This is an awesome health literacy app that helps you make health decisions. It also offers plain language explanations for diagnoses. By using a male or female avatar, you can select what part of the body is affected; then select symptoms to help you learn more about your health. You also can enter a zipcode to help find specialists, hospitals, or urgent care facilities to serve you. If a physician recommends a surgical procedure, enter the details to learn possible complications. If you are an iTriageHealth member you also can compare the cost of the procedure at multiple hospitals and what your co-pay would be. Content is constantly updated and reviewed by Harvard Medical School.
Caregivers use this app to help make medical decisions about the care their loved ones are receiving. As a first time caregiver, even though I was in the health technology sector, I still needed an advocate to affirm how best to navigate through the complexities of our health system.
Pocket Pharmacist. $1.00. This app is like having a pharmacist with you 24/7. For caregivers, this is an awesome tool to help determine whether medications have the potential to cause an interaction, or adverse effect on your loved one.
SafeInHome. Free for 30 days. Monitor activity at home and protect your loved one’s privacy by using built-in motion detectors, not visual monitors. Peel and stick motion sensors connect to your smart phone’s wireless network. Alerts let you know if there has been any motion in the home in the last four hours. Did Dad go for a walk and leave the front door open? Heat sensors let you know if Mom left the stove on. Start with the basics and add sensors later if you wish. Month to month subscription service is based on how many customized alerts you want and what you want to measure. Mom can stay in the house, you can go to work.
Welcome your thoughts about tools that work for you. You also can register at www.Caregivers-Toolbox.com and download tools featured in The Caregiver’s Toolbox.