Caregiver support program gets a helping hand from IT

Family support for patients recovering from illness is crucial, and the Solutions for Caregivers program gives them needed tools and personalized assistance, says Vidya Raman-Tangella, MD, head of UnitedHealthcare’s Innovation Center of Excellence.

UnitedHealthcare is expanding the notion of improving care for patients, and information technology is a part of its strategy for doing so.

It’s helping to support family caregivers by giving them easier access to case management services and online resources that help them care for their loved ones. Called Solutions for Caregivers, the insurer is making it available to large employers that have self-funded health plans; there’s no additional charge for employees who use the online services.

The program offers various resources for caregivers, aging or disabled Americans, and their health care providers, focusing on information, support and a variety of essential home care products. “Many caregivers are searching for relevant resources but often don’t know where to start. Solutions for Caregivers addresses their needs,” says Vidya Raman-Tangella, MD, head of UnitedHealthcare’s Innovation Center of Excellence.

Support for family caregivers is critical to helping patients recover at home, and when caregivers get the right information and services, they can speed the return to full health. That is good for the patients, good for their employers and helps UnitedHealthcare reduce the chances of avoidable medical care after a procedure.

UnitedHealthcare has expanded its information and support technologies designed to simplify the consumer health care experience by making helpful, practical information more accessible through personal technology devices such as computers, smartphones and television programming.

Raman-Tangella talked with Health Data Management Editor Fred Bazzoli about Solutions for Caregivers and how UnitedHealthcare is using information technology to assist program participants.

What was the genesis of the idea for Solutions for Caregivers? How did UnitedHealthcare get this initiative going?

Solutions for Caregivers started as a pilot program with a handful of large employers in 2014. After talking with consumers and employers, we recognized that many caregivers are searching for relevant resources and information. Our program seeks to address that. An estimated 34 million people nationwide provide unpaid care to a loved one age 50 or older, so we knew a large number of people could benefit from a program that anticipated their needs and offered end-to-end solutions to caregivers and their care recipients.

Now that we’ve launched Solutions for Caregivers to all large employers nationwide, more people can take advantage of the available features, including in-person, telephonic and online resources that are designed to help caregivers save money and more effectively provide assistance to the people they support.

What are the key components of the resources available to caregivers?

Solutions for Caregivers is now available to all large employers with self-funded health plans. So far, the program is available to more than 600,000 people nationwide. The program offers various resources for caregivers, aging or disabled Americans, and their healthcare providers.

We offer Information, like customized content based on specific illnesses and challenges for care recipients, with articles and videos for family caregivers about health conditions. We prove a marketplace, which is a growing online store with products and local services available to purchase that help support caregivers and their care recipients, including home-safety products, home-delivered meals, and specialty products such as simple and secure tablet computers.Finally, there’s support, which are resources to help family members connect with each other and healthcare professionals, including shared calendars, secure messaging and task management trackers. Case management services also offer employees in-person and telephonic support, helping them to create and follow through with a care plan.

What are some of the information technology aspects of these resources? For example, how does the program work to get customized content to care recipients and family caregivers?

We try to provide each member with the right information and resources for their specific situation. Each caregiving case is different, so it is important the program offers personalized content to satisfy specific needs. One way we accomplish that is by customizing content, including articles and videos, based on responses to questions about the health and living conditions of the caregiver’s loved one. For instance, someone providing care for a person with Alzheimer’s disease will be able to access articles and videos that address that specific health condition. In addition, case management services offer employees in-person and telephonic support, helping people evaluate their own needs and create a customized care plan that can help prevent problems or quickly solve ones that occur.

In what other ways will information technology support this program as it grows and evolves?

As we gather more feedback from consumers and employers, we will further refine the program and the available resources. For instance, we continue to develop new relationships to expand the products and services available for purchase in the online marketplace. By enhancing the online marketplace, people can learn about and purchase helpful products and services, offering people convenience and enabling them to save money and provide better care.

UnitedHealthcare used to be thought of as only an insurer, but it’s clear that it sees a need to provide these important support services to this segment of its population. How does this help it fulfill its mission and do a better job of meeting business needs?

UnitedHealth Group has made significant investments to foster health care innovation across our organization, including at UnitedHealthcare, our health benefits business that serves more than 45 million people, and Optum, our health services platform that improves the healthcare through population health management, care delivery and improving clinical and operating elements of the health system.

By leveraging information and technology, we are providing people with more personalized, convenient and easy-to-use resources to simplify the health care experience, achieve better health outcomes and translate data into action. We know people want seamless, integrated programs and resources that empower them to take charge of their health and more easily navigate the health system. These innovations can take on many forms, ranging from mobile apps to predictive analytics that can help identify gaps in care.

What challenges do these types of programs place on information technology, for organizations that want to provide them? How is this likely to change in the future?

One of the biggest challenges is driving adoption among consumers. While it is important to create programs that provide value and convenience to consumers, it is equally important to make the right people aware of the right programs for them. We seek to accomplish that through a variety of efforts, including employer-based educational campaigns, providing financial incentives for people to get engaged in their health, and in-person and electronic outreach efforts directly to our members.

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