Are caregivers the key to patient engagement?

The percentage of Americans who care for an adult or child with significant health issues rose to nearly 40% this year. According to a recent report from the Pew Research Center, that figure was 30% just three years ago. It stands to reason that many of the readers of this post fall into the caregiver category. Caregivers can be found among the rich and the poor, high school dropouts and PhDs, and virtually every ethnic background.

 

The Doctor is in Your Phone

Perhaps it comes as no surprise that caregivers have been increasingly turning to the internet for help. Mobile is a key access method. 87% of caregivers have mobile phones and 37% have used mobile devices to gather health information.

 

Overall, 84% of caregivers have looked online for some kind of health information. That compares to 64% of the overall internet population. According to the Pew study, caregivers used the internet more heavily than the overall population in every category that they measured. Take a look:

 

 

Are Patient Portals Addressing Caregiver Needs?

 

Most patient portals feature three things: 

  1. Read-only view of healthcare encounters including test results
  2. Appointment setting
  3. Bill pay

 

Now compare this list to what caregivers are actually trying to do. Of the 12 tasks listed in the chart, portals address only one: "medical test results".

 

Caregivers are trying to keep their loved ones well. They are trying to understand the conditions that have afflicted their loved ones. They want to help them get better.

 

Most patient portals provide necessary, but insufficient resources to patients. Reviewing encounter history is onlly a part of the engagement equation. Online appointment setting can save some time; although, few of these systems actually enable patients to book appointments. Many are merely requests for a call-back to set an appointment. And bill pay? That seems to benefit the healthcare provider more than the patient. 

 

Does your portal support these caregivers?

Diagnosing a condition is at the other end of the engagement spectrum from the administrative tasks offered by most portals. It is astonishing how common this task is across all demographic categories:

 

 

Caregivers are Trackers

Caregivers are themselves engaged patients. 72% of caregivers track their own weight, diet, exercise, blood pressure, blood sugar, sleep, headaches, or some other health indicator. And 31% of caregivers track their loved ones health metrics. 

 

 

Bottom Line

 

With the aging population, caregivers are an increasingly prominent fixture of the healthcare landscape. Health systems should factor the needs of these important constituents into their patient engagement programs. Caregivers rely on the internet and mobile technologies to help them manage their own health and that of their loved ones. Conventional patient portals fall far short of addressing caregivers most pressing healthcare needs. The best health systems realize this and offer information and tools that support researching and tracking health.