In a series of LinkedIn Influencer blog posts, Humana President and CEO Bruce Broussard shares insights and ideas about the future of health care and discusses the importance of working together to improve the health-care system as well as our own health and well-being. His latest — Can You Handle a Second “Job”? — is reprinted below. To see all of his blog posts, click here.
How do you respond when a loved one gets very sick and needs help?
It’s a situation many of us have found ourselves in. It’s simple. You become their caregiver. You go with them to the doctor’s office; you help sort the medications; you say everything’s going to be OK. You become their advocate, and you stand with them and fight.
It may be a close friend who has been diagnosed with breast cancer or a parent in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. You do whatever it takes – and then some – to support the loved one. And in today’s complex, unconnected health care system, it’s not an easy task.
My Own Experience
Earlier this year, I experienced the full impact of caregiving when my wife became very sick. She went from having flu-like symptoms to being hospitalized in intensive care in a span of 24 hours. It happened so suddenly that it caught our two children and me completely by surprise.
For lack of a better expression, she’s the rock of our family. You never expect to see someone so strong in mind, body and spirit go through this. And it was painful to watch.
While I jumped right into the situation, I learned very quickly that I could not do it alone. I needed help. Thankfully, my wonderful sister-in-law was able to come to our aid. She was able to be there with my wife when I was at work; help get our daughter to and from school; and handle many other responsibilities while my wife was recovering.
Although my wife made a full recovery and was back to being her old self quickly, becoming a caregiver, even for such a short time, was an overwhelming experience. We were very fortunate that it lasted only a couple of weeks and that we had the family and resources to handle the situation.
I started to think about this, and it led to some questions: What about those who don’t have the family or resources? How do they handle it?
The Challenge we Face
Take the millennial population, America’s next generation of leaders. According to a study conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP, nearly 25 percent of America’s caregivers are millennials between the ages of 18 and 34 and are equally likely to be male or female.
The study also found that the “typical higher-hour caregiver (who provides unpaid care for at least 21 hours a week) has been caregiving for an average of 5 1/2 years and expects to continue care for another 5 years.” In America, “four in 10 U.S. adults are now caring for a sick or elderly family member.”
This “second job” can take many hours per week. Ten thousand people a day are aging into Medicare, which is also going to fuel a greater demand for caregiving during the next 10 to 20 years as the boomers retire. This is also a population that’s facing health challenges. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “95% of health care costs for older Americans are for chronic diseases.”
The statistics show that caregivers are going to be challenged with an unhealthy population, which could require more of their time. And for many of us, work doesn’t end at 5:30 p.m., thanks to tablets and smartphones.
Your Second “Job”
Being a caretaker requires a significant amount of care coordination, not to mention the time commitment.
For starters, you have to deal with the primary care physician. You’re taking your loved one to see multiple specialists. If they’re older, odds are they have multiple prescriptions, so ensuring that they take all their medications is critical. You’re also making sure they’re eating what they’re supposed to eat.
You also take them to urgent care or the emergency room, and you inspect the house for items that could lead to a fall, such as a bathroom rug that’s not taped down. You’re also coordinating all of their health plan claims. And to make it even more complicated, we’re working longer hours at our jobs.
According to a Gallup poll, “adults employed full time in the U.S. report working an average of 47 hours per week, almost a full workday longer than what a standard five-day, 9-to-5 schedule entails.” The poll also found that “nearly four in 10 say they work at least 50 hours.”
Given the number of Americans becoming eligible for retirement, we need to make it easier for caregivers. Our workforce is becoming more agile, which will enable more people to have the flexibility of being able to work near the ones they care for. But we’re also working longer hours, and technology makes it tougher for us to disconnect from work.
If we’re going to make it easier for people to serve as caregivers, we need to start by making it easier to interact with primary care physicians, specialists and health plans. Caregivers don’t have time to hold on the phone and repeat the same information to a new caller. We need to improve. And there are ways we can:
• Simplicity is essential –Caregivers must be able to easily get information about their loved ones – from primary care physicians and specialists — and have access to tools and services that support them. That means going beyond a mobile app. HumanaPointsofCare.com is our IT platform that enables our members to let family and friends who care for them access information about their medical situations. The platform also enables them to view documentation from recent provider visits. When you achieve this type of seamless interoperability among the people providing care, you enable caregivers to help their loved ones improve their health.
• Connecting through technology – Technology continues to change the way we communicate. We need to help caregivers take advantage of technology that enables them to stay connected with the people they care for, whether it’s remote monitoring, in-home cameras or fall-prevention devices. The responsibility of care cannot solely fall on the caregiver; nurses, other in-home clinicians and spouses can help. Take Robert, an 88-year-old-Humana health plan member who lives in North Carolina; his wife, who is older, helps care for him. Robert is prone to falls and wears a device that notifies Humana if he falls. How does this impact his wife’s ability to care for him? Not only does it help provide her with peace of mind and comfort because there is a team standing behind her, it enables Robert to do what he loves: be independent, stroll in his yard or tinker in his garage.
• Extending care through services. Transportation services are important to caregivers, since they may not always be able to drive their loved one to a doctor’s appointment in the middle of the day. These types of services not only benefit the person being cared for, but also reduce the stress on caregivers by saving them time and helping them become even more self-sufficient. Transportation services also help people stay in their homes, thus avoiding the nursing home. In addition, nurses going to the home to do check-ups and provide care can also alleviate caregiver stress. At Humana At Home, which helps people stay in their homes instead of being sent to a nursing home, our care programs have been found to reduce hospitalizations by 42 percent and lower hospital readmission rates by 35 percent.
In addition, when you look at the amazing work performed by nurses, you have to factor in the education each one of them receives. Most caregivers operate on their own but with no clinical training. We must support them with education and assistance in order to help them care for their loved ones.
It Will Affect Us All
I believe that parenting is the toughest job you’ll ever have, but it’s the one you’ll love the most. When it comes to the job of a caregiver, it’s one that doesn’t pay or promote for good work. The reward is the love we share with the people who once cared for us. We’re helping them deal with their disease through empathy. And it’s what we’re put on this earth to do.
In my recent experience with my wife, I was fortunate that it ended as quickly as it began. But there are millions of others who have to balance the demands of not only their professional lives but the lives of the people they love who require care.
As the holiday season gets into full swing, most of us will spend time with the ones we love, many of whom we might care for someday. We’ll sit down for dinner and reminisce about the past.
Let’s make sure they’ll have the care they deserve by ensuring that the American workforce is well-equipped to handle this vital responsibility.