Vinfen is looking at how emerging healthcare technologies can be used to deliver services to people with psychiatric conditions, intellectual and developmental disabilities, brain injuries, and behavioral health challenges. Incorporating technology into our portfolio of services has two important potential advantages: first, technology can empower and support people to manage their health and improve their quality of life; and second, technology can extend the capacity of our staff to provide services.
But there is another important group of stakeholders for whom the use of healthcare technology can have a positive impact – the informal caregiver.
According to the Family Caregiver Alliance in the US there are an estimated 52 million informal caregivers – most often family members – providing unpaid assistance to support people with disabilities or conditions who live in the community. The economic value of these services was estimated in 2009 to be an astounding $450 billion per year. Numerous studies show that these caregivers are at higher risk for stress, depression and experience a lower quality of life than the general population. The work is often demanding and relentless with limited resources and yet these caregivers are a critical element in a healthcare system that enables people with disabilities to live successfully in the community.
Among the healthcare technologies we have been reviewing recently are some promising initiatives that have the potential to mitigate or alleviate some of this stress. There are clinical social media platforms that are showing very encouraging results in managing stress, depression and anxiety. Two such examples are BigWhiteWall , a clinically supported social media community and MyStrength, a platform of online tools and tailored resources to help people manage and improve their mental health. Both systems are web based, accessible and available at anytime to caregivers. They offer not only mental health information, resources and self management supports, but also an opportunity to seek help and encouragement from others users experiencing similar challenges.
Under current payment structures, paying for these innovative services is challenging, but it seems that health insurance companies, in both the private and public sectors are beginning to recognize the necessity of caring for the caregiver and the value in using healthcare technology to do so.