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Using Telehealth to Care for the Caregiver

A USC program aims to extend home-based video visits to help caregivers deal with stress. It's one of many projects designed to extend the care management platform beyond just the patient.

By Eric Wicklund

- A telehealth clinic housed at the University of Southern California is using a $100,000 grant to expand its services to caregivers.

The program at USC Telehealth is designed to help those who care for children and adult family members with special needs deal with their own stress issues, which can have a serious effect on their health as well as those for which they care. The grant from QueensCare, a Los Angeles-based public healthcare charity, will enable the statewide program to reach out to low-income and underserved families.

“Parents often confront multiple challenges, including caregiving demands, posed not only by their children with special needs, but also their aging grandparents and typical siblings,” Nadia Islam, clinical director for USC Telehealth, told USCNews. “These challenges cut across socioeconomic, geographical and cultural boundaries.”

“The program will provide access to mental health services for people who need it the most, free of charge,” added Bianca Rodas, communications manager for QueensCare, who noted this is the organization’s first telehealth grant. “The stigma surrounding mental health is still very present, and the opportunity to provide this type of care, in the comfort of one’s home, is an exciting way to work around that.”

The clinic, based at the USC School of Social Work, uses HIPAA-compliant videoconferencing technology to connect to homes or partner locations. It helped 132 families this past year, providing weekly counseling session for parents and other caregivers of children with autism, ADD/ADHD, physical disabilities, learning disabilities, developmental disabilities and behavioral and emotional difficulties, among others.

Officials estimate they’ll be able to reach an additional 90 families through June 2016 with the new funding.

Caregiver stress is a growing problem in the country, as more and more families look for ways to keep their loved ones at home rather than in expensive assisted living facilities. The issue is faced not only by those with special needs children or adult family members, but also the growing numbers of seniors and veterans.

In 2013, the Department of Veterans Affairs launched a project to equip roughly 1,000 seriously injured veterans with iPads – not only to connect with them at home, but to bring their caregivers into the daily conversation. Neil Evans, associate chief of staff for informatics and co-chief of the Primary Care Washington D.C. Veterans Affairs Medical Center, said the platform improves the care management link between providers, patients and caregivers. It also gives the caregivers a means to connect with the health system when they need help.

The concept of ‘caring for the caregiver’ was an integral part of the recent mHealth Summit outside Washington, D.C. Among the presenters was AnthroTonix, whose DANA Brain Vitals app has been tested by the military on soldiers injured in the field and by John Hopkins researchers and some schools as a means of identifying cognitive issues in patients and students. Company officials said they’re next hoping to use the app to test fatigue, stress and depression among dementia caregivers.

"Caregiving is a huge problem in our country," Jo Ann Jenkins, chief executive officer of the AARP, said in her keynote at the summit. "There's a lot of stress. We need to come up with ways to provide care for the caregiver as well."


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