Few Caregivers Use Mobile, Online Tools to Track Medicines: Pew Report

Nearly three-quarters of caregivers are going online to find resources on supporting patients, but only 7 percent have used online or mobile tools to manage medications.   

Online tools are a helpful resource for 59 percent of caregivers with Internet access, but as far as tracking when a person takes medication or schedules refills, they've yet to learn how mobile applications may help, a new report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project revealed.

Online and mobile tools for medication compliance are a growing market, but many caregivers don't know they exist. Of caregivers with Internet access, 84 percent go online to research health topics, yet only 7 percent of caregivers use online or mobile tools to monitor how patients take medications and refill prescriptions, according to the June 20 report "Family Caregivers are Wired for Health."

In addition, 39 percent of caregivers surveyed managed medications for someone, yet only 18 percent of them use online or mobile tools for managing medications.

As a report card on how online resources aid caregivers, "it's probably around a D+," Susannah Fox, associate director of Pew Internet and American Life Project, told eWEEK.

Although caregivers are "voracious information consumers" and use the Internet and mobile devices, 41 percent believe these tools are unhelpful, Fox noted.

"I think that's an interesting opportunity for people who would like to serve up information support for caregivers," Fox told eWEEK. "This is a market that's interested but not yet completely well served."

Caregivers use search engines and may or may not receive guidance on finding caregiver support groups at a doctor's office, she noted. They need more direction on where to find information on caregiving.

Pharmacy chains such as CVS and Walgreens offer mobile apps that allow users to refill prescriptions online.

For the report, Pew conducted phone interviews with 3,014 adults from Aug. 7 to Sept. 6, 2012. Close to 39 percent of American adults are acting as caregivers for a person with significant health issues, Pew reported.

Mobile tools include Great Call's Med Coach Medication Reminder app and MediSafe Project's platform, which connects to a cloud service to allow caregivers to track medication usage.

Many caregivers and patients are still using pencil and paper as well as pillboxes to keep track of their medication, Fox noted.

"It's still a very offline activity involving pencil and paper and pillboxes, which makes sense but I think that's a potentially untapped market for entrepreneurs and others who can look at this data and see that there's a significant group of American adults who are bristling with technology, who have a complex situation on their hands and they're not yet using technology to manage it—but they're clearly ready for it."

As far as whether the mobile apps are useful or not for caregivers, "that's an open question," Fox said.

In fact, although Websites provide helpful information about drug interactions, the mobile apps themselves may not be needed altogether to keep track of medications, according to Laurie Orlov, principal analyst with research firm Aging in Place Technology Watch.

"Dosage, side effects, interactions and price research on a Website could help, but you don't need specific mobile apps," Orlov told eWEEK, noting that the mobile Web versions are sufficient.

In a June 20 blog post, Orlov suggested that a large number of medication apps are available on iTunes, but could be difficult to locate without subcategories.

"There are plenty of them buried in an, uh, intriguing page of medical apps, mingling diabetes management tools with white noise generators, pregnancy trackers, weight loss tips and a radio police scanner app," Orlov wrote.

"If you do not know that there are mobile apps to help with medication management, for example, you may not even think to Google it," said Lisa Winstel, chief operating officer for the Caregiver Action Network, a nonprofit organization that provides resources and peer support for caregivers.

"So, before we can address how to enable caregivers to implement tech tools, I think we need to do a better job of educating family caregivers that these tools are out there—and what they can do to help," Winstel told eWEEK in an email.

The Caregiver Action Network's Plugged-In Caregiving program helps people providing aid to others navigate through the technology options available to them.

Although tech tools have the potential to help caregivers manage the medication of loved ones, the success of mobile apps has yet to be proven, according to Winstel.

"We do not yet have enough information to know if mobile apps, for example, improve compliance," Winstel said.

Medication-management apps can be burdensome to caregivers because they need to enter the names, doses and schedule for all prescriptions and over-the-counter medication a patient may be taking, Winstel said.

"For patients with complex chronic conditions, this can be a lengthy list," Winstel said.