While a long-standing goal our health ministries have is to support greater home care and free up hospital waiting rooms, the means employed have yet to catch up with the intent. And due to the level of care needs that remain unaddressed by our system, many Canadians have been unexpectedly thrust into a new role: caregiver.
A carer (also known as caregiver or family caregiver) is a person who takes on an unpaid caring role for someone who needs help because of a physical or cognitive condition, an injury or a chronic life-limiting illness.
Statistics Canada has found that more than one in four Canadians stand in as informal or unpaid caregivers. The amount of work they do is astounding, and can also be quite stressful. On average, they devote 19 hours per week to caring for loved ones (often seniors) with chronic illnesses or life-limiting disabilities. In many instances, this work allows them to live at home longer and reduces health care costs. If we were to properly compensate caregivers across Canada for their efforts, the estimated cost would amount to somewhere between $24 and 31 billion annually.
Unfortunately, these savings have a cost of their own. According to Dr. Nathan Stall, associate editor at the CMAJ, most caregivers are not adequately equipped for the job. "Despite having little to no training, they are expected to provide medical and nursing care in the home, navigate complicated health and long-term care systems, and serve as substitute decision makers," said Stall, pointing out that the physical, psychological and financial impacts on caregivers is usually significant.
And while the number of adults needing assistance will double over the next 15 years, the pool of caregivers is shrinking, as many are seniors who will soon need aid themselves. The time to act is now.
How can digital health technologies help ease this burden?
The benefits of applying digital health technologies to improve access to care for marginalized patients, treat acute issues and monitor chronic conditions are already demonstratable. But they can also be applied to scenarios where clinician-caregiver collaboration can support regular remote home care through education and coaching.
From a physician perspective, remote home care support can increase the visibility of patients who might not otherwise adhere to necessary follow-ups, thus improving compliance and outcomes. For the patient, such technology can increase engagement and reduce unnecessary travel and expenses for consults, while the caregiver gets the support and piece of mind they need.
Some examples of regular home care support already in use with the Reacts collaborative platform include:
- consultations with those caring for chronic disease patients;
- remote wound care supervision; and
- remote home ventilatory assistance.
Caregiving will affect most Canadians at some point in their lives. Providing them with the support they need is not only the right thing to do, it’s also economically necessary if we’re going to get ahead of the mounting burden of health care costs.
We now have an opportunity to help alleviate this burden and curb its progress with digital tools. Change management remains the last hurdle. Health ministries may have some work left to do there―but here are some things you can do to integrate a digital solution into your own practice.
This material is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. The opinions stated by the authors are made in a personal capacity and do not necessarily reflect those of the Canadian Medical Association and its subsidiaries including Joule. Feel passionate about physician-led innovation? Please connect with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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