Caregivers need support; innovators take on the challenge

Published March 18, 2020

To meet the needs of caregivers, Florida Blue   is looking for supportive solutions—both personal and universal. We talk to Kirstie McCool, GuideWell Mutual Holding Corporation (GuideWell) Innovation Executive Director, for a Q&A on how innovation can make a difference for caregivers, and how those solutions may have an impact on Florida Blue   members.

Nearly 50% of working adults are caring for a family member or loved one. Often, this act of service can be a burden on their physical and mental well-being.

Recognizing this gap in support for caregivers—not just at the member level, but for all caregivers—Florida Blue stations community specialists in their retail centers to identify caregivers who walk through the doors, regardless of their insurance status. From there, they can connect them to resources in their community and beyond. In 2019, they connected with nearly 17,000 caregivers who walked into a Florida Blue   retail center.

Now, to cast a wider net of support, the insurer hopes to pilot a more scalable solution with their members through a collaboration with GuideWell Mutual Holding Corporation (GuideWell).

The Challenge

Every year, GuideWell hosts a Health Innovation Challenge to find solutions for some of the country's biggest obstacles in healthcare.

The challenge this year: Caring for Caregivers.

In addition to the chance to win up to $100,000, challenge participants—companies and nonprofits from across the country—may have the opportunity to pilot their solutions with Florida Blue   .

A Q&A with Kirstie McCool

We spoke with GuideWell's Executive Director of Innovation, Kirstie McCool, to learn more about the challenges caregivers face and how innovation can help solve them for Florida Blue   members and the community at large.

Health of America (HoA): Why did you choose caregiving for this year's Health Innovation Challenge?

Kirstie McCool (KM): Tens of millions of Americans are caring for a family member or loved one. As a company, we've been focusing on supporting this very important demographic for the past year. We consider caregivers a silent demographic because many of them don't actually identify as a caregiver. They think of themselves as a daughter or spouse, for example, helping a loved one. But the reality is that they are facing a lot of health issues themselves because of the chronic stress, social isolation, depression and many other conditions that come with being a caregiver. In many cases, they are also working, which can increase stress and their risk for negative health outcomes.

HOA: What role do you think innovation can play in improving the well-being of caregivers?

KM: There are a lot of approaches out there [to improve the well-being of caregivers] that are regional in scope. For example, I was co-caring for my father-in-law as he was going through late-stage dementia. And during the day while I went to work, he went to adult daycare, essentially. That's a solution, but it's not scalable. It was very important that the solutions we chose for this challenge were scalable—potentially scalable across the country. They needed to really move the needle in addressing caregivers at the foundational level, rather than being local, niche service organizations. We also looked for approaches that were accessible and affordable for every person or family.

HOA: Are there any solutions you're excited about this year?

KM: Right now we're down to four finalists, and I'm incredibly excited about all of them. We tried to be diverse in the companies we selected this year:

  • Artificial Intelligence - A data platform identifies caregivers who are at risk of burnout using artificial intelligence. The best outcome is that patients in need of caregiving can stay at home for as long as possible before they're put into a long-term facility like a nursing home. So by proactively identifying caregivers on the cusp of burning out and giving them support before it's too late, this company is prolonging the amount of time that these patients can stay at home with their families. Specialists call at-risk caregivers to connect them with local resources, help them understand Medicare and reduce their stress.
  • Voice Solution - Similar to an Alexa or Siri, a personalized solution is placed in the home of a senior being cared for by family members. So if I'm taking care of my mom, I can set up this system to be customized for my mother. It can wake her up at a certain time, prompt her to take her meds, send alerts to me if something isn't normal. It can also provide social benefits to aging people, like playing music or talk radio.
  • Digital Platform - Another solution allows caregivers to manage all aspects of their family member or loved one's care in one place and guides them through the complex care journey. It's a digital platform that enables all caregivers (often several family members taking turns) and the care team to connect, engaging all stakeholders in one place.
  • Virtual Reality - A headset allows you to experience what it's like to have the ailment or disease that the person you're caring for has. For example, family caregivers can experience what it's like to have dementia, or have the visual experience of going blind. It's a training opportunity for family caregivers to have empathy and understand why their family member might be behaving a certain way.

HoA: What's next for these four finalists?

KM: Right now, the four finalists are in the validation phase, preparing to run validation programs to prove that their solutions can produce results. Based on those results, we may invite one or all of them to pilot their solution for the final phase.

Once they enter into the pilot phase, they'll be working with a small population of Florida Blue    members. That’s exciting for those members because we get to share with them solutions that we trust and believe in. It's also a great opportunity for these companies, since we're helping them build out and test their models, and providing non-dilutive funding to help them do so.

Explore why the need for caregivers is growing as early-onset dementia and Alzheimer's rates rise for younger Americans.

Learn why Florida Blue   and other BCBS companies are opening brick-and-mortar retail centers.

Florida Blue    is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, an association of independent, locally operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies.