If only the decisions facing the Sandwich Generation were as simple as “do you want mayo or mustard on that?”
Instead, millions between the ages of 40 and 59 are finding that their lives are wedged tightly between the hard choices associated with taking care of elderly parents and supporting both their minor and grown children. The AARP estimates, in fact, that 66 million Americans are simultaneously caring for their children and parents at the same time they are supporting themselves. It’s a labor of love that they’re paying dearly for; the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that adults in the Sandwich Generation spend, on average, $10,000 and 1,350 hours on their parents and children combined per year.
The healthcare revolution is partly behind this problem. Care, such as giving medications, ensuring therapy is completed, eating the right foods and tracking vitals like weight, blood pressure and glucose was done only in formal healthcare settings a generation ago. Today, the expectation from all corners of the care continuum is that those activities are done outside the hospital – and absolutely have to be – to control the rising cost of healthcare.
So how can we lighten the load on these Sandwich Generation caregivers? The key is to connect them not just to resources, which can be overwhelming in their discreteness and duplicity, but to connect and coordinate healthcare resources on their behalf. Here are three steps that we as an industry can take toward making life easier for those getting squeezed in the middle:
Cook Up Something They Will Like
The Sandwich Generation and the people they care for are a nameless and faceless bunch. Or are they? According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, the typical caregiver is a 49-year-old woman caring for a parent or in-law while she also works at a paid job outside the home. She spends about 24 hours a week helping that parent bathe and dress, and she also helps with their shopping and transportation. More often than not, this caregiver performs health-related tasks like giving injections, cleaning wounds or operating medical equipment.
What this portrait drives home is that the solution created has to work for real people. Usability has to be the paramount design principle, it will drive engagement and compliance. Best practices validated by actual solution users aren’t just important, they’re the key to unlocking engagement and making care provided in the home a viable and effective alternative. Think about technology that an older adult can and will use. We need to put solutions in place that are easy enough for 30, 40 and 50-somethings to teach their parents and grandparents how to use – and simple enough so the older set will use them on their own later. Not only do we need to overcome older adults’ skepticism about technology, we need to help them deal with physical limitations (i.e., failing eyesight and small screens).
Think Outside the Healthcare Plate
The connected healthcare platform of the future has to include so much more than healthcare. Look for platforms that let caregivers – in fact, all members of the care team – handle both clinical care and home care service tasks. Things like cooking (and eating) the right foods and having transportation to get to and from appointments has everything to do with quality patient outcomes and needs to be part of the solution.
One of the most significant challenges affecting caregiving in the United States is how to take advantage of the many apps available to solve individual tasks, like using Uber for transportation needs. We need to find a way to bring the solutions together so the typical patient and family – who are not necessarily technological wizards – can successfully navigate them on a day-to-day basis.
Set the Table for Long-Term Success
Healthcare change is as certain as death and taxes, so it’s best to be prepared for the unknown with a connected healthcare platform that operates as a web-based Software as a Service (SaaS) solution. Any time you can avoid having to reconfigure internal systems to accommodate installation of new hardware and software, is time and money you can devote to your core mission of patient care.
Technology that allows for customization and the presentation of personalized data streams isn’t just a nice to have, it’s a must. There’s simply too much “big data” out there today and no one human – especially a stressed-out home caregiver or equally stressed-out case manager – can digest it all at once. Connected care solutions that can collect data passively, and let patients off the hook for having to manually record it, will almost certainly win the war when it comes to the aforementioned engagement battle.
Connected care sounds simple and if it’s done right, it will be that way for end users. I believe those of us responsible for building it can make that happen if we think about the challenges that we and our loved ones either are facing, or will be one day soon.