Why GuideWell is driving greater innovation for caregiver supports

One healthcare company's push to rethink supports for caregivers is beginning to bear fruit, according to a new study.

Earlier this year, GuideWell, the parent company of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, launched an innovation challenge with the goal of shaking up supports for caregivers. With at least 44 million people serving as unpaid caregivers for a loved one, finding ways to help them balance their health is crucial, said Kirstie McCool, executive director of GuideWell Innovation.

McCool said that many family caregivers are socially isolated, struggling with depression or have a poor health status. In addition, one in five are employed and a quarter are millennials, meaning there's a diverse demographic in need of support, she said.

"It's much broader than you might think," McCool told Fierce Healthcare.

RELATED: Stress and pressure of caregiving takes a health toll, says Blue Cross Blue Shield Association survey

The four finalists in the innovation challenge were selected from nearly 100 applicants and received a $50,000 infusion to back bringing their platforms to the next level. And now, new data from one of the finalists, Carallel, shows promise that innovating caregiver supports could pay off for insurers.

Carallel provides caregivers with access to an integrated system called MyCareDesk that assists in managing and planning for the needs of a loved one in care. Users also have access to a trained team of care advocates who provide assistance.

Carallel tracked its users from April to July 2020, with participants recruited by the Caregiver Action Network, and found that 90% reported reduced stress and 87% reported easier decision-making Hillary Ebach, CEO of Carallel, told Fierce Healthcare proof of concept on platforms like theirs have been of high interest to insurers who can now cover such solutions in Medicare Advantage.

"This notion of caregiver support has gotten a lot of attention, particularly in the Medicare Advantage market recently," Ebach said.

RELATED: 1 in 3 Medicare Advantage plans to offer supplemental benefits linked to COVID-19 next year, Avalere finds

The COVID-19 pandemic is also putting a spotlight on the need to enhance and rethink supports for caregivers, Ebach said.

McCool said that data suggest amid the pandemic demand for unpaid caregivers has increased, with some-61% of Americans looking out for a loved one, friend or neighbor due to COVID-19. While Carallel earned its finalist spot prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, digital platforms for caregivers may prove even more valuable going forward, she said.

"With COVID now and folks having to stay home...solutions like Carallel enable and empower," she said.

There's also a growing interest in such solutions from employers, McCool said. Guidewell, for instance, offered two weeks of paid leave that became "extremely critical" when the pandemic hit.

Ebach said that part of what's driving these changes is that more caregivers are actually identifying themselves as such.

"Caregivers historically don’t self-identify," she said. "You really see that changing."