CareZapp: social media network keeping loved ones at home
Serial technology entrepreneur Andrew MacFarlane is passionate about the use of technology to improve home care.
Following on from his work with GP software system GP Clinical (which Andrew exited in 2005) and his success building a system called OHSSYS (one of the largest occupational health suppliers throughout Ireland and the UK, which he exited in 2007), MacFarlane's latest project CareZapp appears to have even more potential to change the face of care-related technology around the globe.
"I have built a number of different software companies over the last nearly 30 years in the Irish and UK markets, mainly around healthcare," Andrew explains. "For a period I was also centre manager and director of a unique environment called the Louth Living Lab. A year ago a number of the technical team and myself came together to co-found CareZapp because we saw an opportunity in the marketplace - primarily around the aspect of connecting people with care."
CareZapp is somewhat similar to a Facebook-style social network, which connects care-givers and recipients in a virtual community space. This allows for a network of support to be built around the subject, with family members and other interested parties - who have been given express permission - to be included in this group and kept informed of any developments or issues that might arise in the person's care.
"We see the home as care's new frontier," Andrew tells me. "Right now, our acute systems and hospitals systems and all of the other systems are under massive pressure because you have an ageing demographic and difficulties there in terms of budgets and resources.
"So care has to move into the home in some fashion - and how do you do that?"
The answer, Andrew believes, lies in connecting a patient with their loved ones and carers, as well as with community services and medical professionals - all through the help of the CareZapp.
"All care at the home level is about the community and local delivery," Andrew explains. "So CareZapp allows you to tap into the different resources that are available. It helps somebody who is requiring care or who is providing care to enable that care best in the home."
According to Andrew, CareZapp will improve the communication and collaboration between all of the care givers in the patient's life.
"A lot of these groups exist, but the challenge for people is often that they are simply not connected; somebody comes in and does this, another person comes in and does that - but there is no co-ordination or collaboration between all of those services," he says.
"Generally, 80pc of care is provided by family, yet they often don't become a part of the picture. An important element here also is that CareZapp keeps them informed and updated too."
CareZapp can also provide peace of mind for those living abroad, who may have sick of elderly family members by including them in the network.
"We have what we call 'care applications'," Andrew explains. "So we can put in technologies into the home, with our different technology partners, that can monitor activity in the home.
"So if you are concerned about mum or dad perhaps living alone, this will tell you they are up and moving around in the morning - you can tell if they are in the bathroom for extended periods, for example. Or if they have fallen, it will send a notification out to family members or to nearby friends and neighbours. If you have got somebody who may be suffering from dementia and they may be wandering, you can set up notifications to be sent out if they leave the house at certain times of the day."
Andrew believes that CareZapp may also work to alleviate the strain on the health system, allowing patients to go home in a more timely and safe fashion.
"We did a project with one of our service partners in the Mater Hospital, and we were able to discharge older people from the hospital sooner and they were able to get care at home, where they prefer to get it," Andrew explains.
"They were able to get home care providers to come in and take regular vital readings - and the clinical team back in the hospital could then see those readings and if there were any concerns they could respond directly.
"Where you can move people out of expensive beds into home-care provision you are talking about 20pc of the cost, or less."
A number of care organisations are already on board with the idea. "We work with a number of home-care providers, one who we have a large enterprise deal with is My Home-Care. With My Home-Care we are currently rolling out CareZapp throughout the country. We work with them to deliver connection into the home and connection with family members and with other technologies so that they can bring value-added services in," Andrew says.
"So if a carer is arriving, the family will be made aware that the carer has arrived, they can see the care notes that are made for them and they also know when the carer has left. So everyone is clear on the people attending the home.
"The family members receiving those notifications could be in New York, London or San Francisco - the idea is that distance is not an issue. The family members, no matter how far away they are, can see this information and be a part of mum or dad's care."
For Andrew, technology is no longer a challenge for users - regardless of age or ability - the benefits of using the system soon eclipse any teething issues one might have at first with the software.
"In some cases, the care recipient will use the technology and be a part of their own care," he explains. "We have a man who has early stages dementia and knows he will be facing challenges going forward and he is setting up his own care plan and bringing in the supports.
"In other cases, the person may not be in a position to do that and the care is being provided on their behalf. So in that case, they won't be using the technology themselves. But it is very simple to use, so anyone who familiar with Whatsapp or Facebook can use the system.
"One of the biggest growing markets for tablets now is amongst seniors. Tablets are easy to use and it's a huge growth market. Even if you look at the demographics of Facebook, one of the biggest in terms of growth is the over-65 market - and that is what is happening in the marketplace too, in terms of the use of smartphones," Andrew adds. "The iPhone didn't exist eight years ago - technology is moving so fast and the uptake in that space is massive, so you've got a very big market."
The potential market for CareZapp is undeniably global, with home care a universal area - but just how will CareZapp pay for itself?
"Right now across Europe, there are 125 million unpaid family care givers; in the UK, there are 6.5 million, which will grow to nine million over the coming years; in the US, there are 90 million unpaid care givers - so the numbers are massive," Andrew explains.
"With CareZapp, the basic service is free. The idea is for us to build a network of care. So the free app enables us to build that network of care among family members, neighbours and communities. Then for the support organisations, we charge them a subscription to become part of that network, so that they can provide services to their clients through it. For the third element, what we call 'care applications' - where we introduce technologies and other supports - we charge monthly subscriptions for those.
"In that case, it might be the family member who is paying for it because they want to keep a check on a parent with dementia, or the carers' organisation might pay for it because they are delivering it as a part of their overall service."
Last year, CareZapp made it through to become one of 14 finalists in the TechCrunch Disrupt Europe Start-up Battlefield event in London, which brought them to the attention of a number of investors.
"We are raising money," says Andrew, who was born in London but grew up in Galway. "To date, we have done it through a mix of our own funding, some Enterprise Ireland funding and some from the Bank of Ireland Accelerator programme - other than that, we are currently talking to equity investors.
"It's not hard to convince people of the need for CareZapp when you pitch it - because everyone has a care-related story," Andrew adds.
"We need to do things differently out there. Everybody see the challenges in terms of the people on trolleys in hospitals. Much of this care could be provided better in a patient's own home - and 90pc of people say that they want to stay at home anyway."
Sunday Indo Business