A significant body of research indicates that informal caregivers – people who spend a great deal of unpaid time assisting a parent, spouse, or child with personal care and other routine needs – have worse health outcomes than individuals in the same demographic who do not routinely participate in caregiving activities. These caregivers miss or delay primary and other preventative care and have higher levels of stress, chronic physical health disease, depression, and anxiety. All are substantive risk factors for hospitalization, emergency department use, and other unplanned care that contributes to unnecessary health care costs. Additionally, research has shown that a caregiver’s decision to place a loved one in a long-term care facility is heavily influenced by the caregiver’s own health status.
Drs. Schulz and Degenholtz are conducting a two-phase study to develop evidence-based policy recommendations for family caregivers. In phase one, they are assessing the feasibility of identifying caregivers by targeting members of an insurance plan, the UPMC Health Plan, and linking them to care recipients who are also enrolled in the plan. This will enable them to access utilization data for both caregivers and care recipients over time. Assuming that the identification and linking strategy is effective, they will then carry out phase two, delivering a support intervention for caregivers with the aim of reducing health care utilization costs for caregivers and/or care recipients. A definitive study showing that a caregiver intervention can mitigate health care utilization has never been done before.