Caregiving in the information age: Examining the potential to include service providers in the online care networks of informal caregivers
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As the population ages, older adults managing chronic conditions and associated functional impairments will turn to family members and friends to obtain assistive help as informal caregivers. Formal services are often commissioned to provide additional care to complex older adults, creating a network that requires effective information sharing and communication in order to provide optimal care. Unfortunately, important formal-informal care relationships are often not formed and care is not coordinated as effectively as possible. As we enter the information age, services that were once only offered within the community, such as banking and support groups, are now available online. Services now exist to facilitate care coordination for informal caregivers in a shared network of care. Using these tools may show additional benefit if service providers are invited to contribute. Although these tools are currently used by some service providers, there are barriers to gaining widespread user buy-in to this model of use. This study used focus group interviews to conduct a qualitative study on the potential to improve care using an online network to connect informal caregivers and service providers. Case managers, service providers, and informal caregivers were interviewed in order to determine perceptions towards an online network to facilitate communication between caregivers, as well as barriers to supporting online network use by service providers. Interview participants felt that online networks had the potential to improve care delivery through better communication and information sharing, specifically for complex clients who have larger, more complicated care networks. Barriers to the implementation of online networks included the perception that network use would be time-consuming, communication restrictions set by regulating bodies, and the potential for privacy, security, and information ownership issues. Additionally, logistical issues would need to be addressed before the network can be adopted by home care agencies. Widespread inclusion of service providers in online network services will hinge on support from informal caregivers, home care agencies, and regulating organizations. A future pilot study could explore the potential roles and impacts of using online networks to link formal care providers and informal caregivers.