Every day it feels as if there is a new revolutionary device that comes out in the technology sector designed to make our lives easier and more connected, and to save us time. Yet, when it comes to caregiving many of these revolutionary advances are still in development and slowly emerging. As it stands today, 71% of caregivers are interested in using devices and technology that will make their lives easier, but currently only 7% of caregivers are using such technology. In addition, most of this technology only helps with medication management, such as prescription scheduling, refill reminders, organization, and deliveries. I believe that while some of these tools are available, they are not being utilized because the cost is currently too high, caregivers are not aware that the technology exists, and because of the perception that technology is more trouble than it’s worth.
The Cost of Caregiving Technology
Let’s face it: Caregiving technology can be extremely expensive. For many, the cost barrier is so significant for certain products that there is no point entertaining the idea because of the price tag. I was recently at the New England Hospice and Home Care Conference, where I stopped by an exhibit booth for ChartaCloud, a technology company that manufactures artificial intelligence to be used in everyday society, including senior health care. ChartaCloud showed me an example of a small ball the size of a volleyball that was able to follow a person 24 hours a day from roughly 6-10 feet behind them. When the senior enters a bathroom, the ball would not enter, but if the senior is in there for a long period of time (a predetermined amount of time) this ball would automatically call a family member in case of emergency. Eventually, the conversation led to the cost of this impressive piece of technology. Since it was still in development, there was no retail price, but I was told hundreds of thousands of dollars (if not more) had been invested in this small little ball and would most likely be recouped in the price.
This is one of the major reasons why innovation and technology advancements in the area of caregiving have been so slow. New market entrants are offering expensive home monitoring and caregiving products, but who can afford to pay for this type of technology? The 2016 Home Care Benchmarking Study shows the average private home care company has a client for 12 months. There is no way to know why the average person stops using private home care services, but the reasons are usually: moving to a new living environment where care is not needed (such as a nursing home or assisted living), the care recipient improving past the point of needing care, or death. So the question is, at what point is it worth it for families to pay for expensive technology for such a short period of time?
Facilities and companies that offer caregiving services can invest in these technologies and offer them to their clients, but for a high price. Many companies just cannot afford such a high expense, which would need to be recovered either by the client paying for the additional fee, or absorbing it in their profit margins. In both the home and in care facilities, the cost needs to be justifiable for either party to purchase these new technologies that do not currently have a proven return on investment.
Technology and Caregiver Awareness
Another reason why caregiving technology isn’t utilized is the lack of awareness of new technology that is specifically designed to make a caregiver’s job easier. In AARPs Caregivers & Technology: What They Want and Need, caregivers reported needing technological assistance in the following areas:
- Rx refill and pickup
- Making and supervising medical appointments
- Assessing health needs and conditions
- Ensuring home safety
- Checking in on a care recipient
Some of these tasks are better suited for technology advances than others, and there are already some solutions out there to serve these needs. However, they are not helpful to caregivers if they don’t know they exist.
Technology is More Trouble Than It’s Worth
Caregivers are sensitive about implementing technologies that are costly and time consuming to research and learn and this seems to be the biggest barrier preventing technologies from being adopted more rapidly in the senior care market, for now. Maybe the concern is that some of the technology is redundant or is not as useful as it is made out to be. For example, we mentioned the expensive ball that can follow a senior around to ensure their safety. What happens with dementia patients? What if they wander outside? What if that senior is afraid or becomes agitated because they do not understand why a ball is following them around? As great as the technology seems, there are still obstacles to overcome.
Additionally, there is the feeling that the technology does not improve the current methods that already exist. Why does one need a monitoring technology when they call and/or visit their loved once or even dozens of times per day?
Technology continues to evolve, and is going to eventually be implemented in every aspect of society as we know it, including health care. However, I would expect it to take a long time before is it integrated seamlessly into most private home care cases. Robots and Artificial Intelligence will improve many aspects of care, but for the time being most are still relying on good old fashioned humans to provide the majority of care that is needed today and into the future.