After five weeks in the hospital for a heart operation, she is recovering at home alone in another town and state.
So how to keep track of mother?
Officially since the spring of 2015, Wolf Shlagman, founder/CEO of Care Angel in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., entrepreneur and, for 20 years, telemedicine expert, has been offering a solution.
Care Angel is a computerized system that can record and report an aging relative’s vital signs to alert families of any change in health status before they take action.
Billed the “Virtual Caregiver,” the Smart Care “artificially intelligent voice response technology” platform can be customized to record a soothing family member’s voice for the sick relative in question to hear, to provide the relative with care by landline or cell phone using Apple Play or Google Play and to provide health data about the relative for family members.
Shlagman explained that, through company research, he learned that other organizations such as the Diabetes Foundation, offered such health-oriented customized software service.
“Seniors don’t want to burden families,” he said during a demonstration/interview with this writer at an annual conference of the American Society on Aging, a 5,000-member, multi-disciplinary organization addressing different aspects of aging, in response to a question about the program’s different facets.
“[They] won’t check in. It helps seniors [become] more independent. [You] just answer the phone. It’s all audio. [You learn about mother’s vitals and you say, ‘Good’ or ‘Oh, not good.’]
“[You can then communicate by asking your mother,] ‘What’s your blood pressure? [Do you] need anything?’”
The Care Angel program answers questions by family members about their senior relative. The answers are converted into ready-to-use dashboard notification, alerts, care insights and reports on the Care Angel Caregiver app.
If the answers show that all isn’t well or the relative is in need, Care Angel will notify the selected family-and-friend network, also known in the product’s parlance as the Care Circle, to empower them to act quickly to prevent larger problems or tragedy.
“When I set my mother up [with the Care Angel system], it gives [up] information,” he said. “Who else do you want to receive alerts? [You can set up the program to send data to] friends, sisters, brothers and neighbors.”
He explained that senior long-term care and short-term care and chronic illness management in general make up two-thirds of the $3 trillion-plus spent yearly on health care.
Federal research, some of which appears on the Care Angel website, counts at least 50 million seniors in the country, which will increase to 120 million over the next 20 years and more than 1.5 billion around the world.
Research predicts that, in coming decades, adults will live at least 20 years longer, deal with several health conditions, take several prescription drugs, suffer from injuries and fight to stay alive, fully-functioning and independent.
“One of the realizations in healthcare [is that we are spending $4 trillion[-plus in] health care [costs],” Shlagman said. “Two-thirds [of that is in] senior care.”
Meanwhile, about 70 million caregivers are providing much of the senior care, he added. Shlagman pointed to federal research finding senior care fast-becoming the greatest expenditure to every layer of society.
“[The industry of senior care forms] 20 percent of our gross national product (GDP) and [it is] growing,” he said. “ … The task of caregiving [can] take a decade of a person’s life.”
Nearly 40 percent of adults in the nation serve as caregivers for more than 20 hours to their aging relatives who have serious medical issues, taking its emotional and financial toll on them and their families and triggering the $300 billion in costs to businesses, insurers and other facets of society.
As a result, he said, families, insurers and businesses are confronting these issues, finding new means of enabling seniors to age in place and addressing the high costs for senior care.
“It really is about [balancing work with family obligations],” Shlagman said. “It is relevant [to] those issues. You [can’t] be there for [aging] mothers and fathers [as you balance] family [and] work. You don’t connect. Days and weeks [can pass with] no connection [to your aging mother or father].”
In response, he said, Care Angel, also titled Care Angel VIP Care Service, is meant to alleviate such healthcare costs by using technology to inform families of medical problems in advance, decreasing the number of unneeded and pricey hospitalization visits and repeat visits, enhancing results and being detailed about the health status of patients.
“We are growing our company [and we’ve done the] research,” Shlagman said of the company and the previous firms he ran. “We got bought out. We got sold. I asked a colleague of mine [to join me in a new venture and we put together our] collective experiences and know-how.”
Prior to owning Care Angel, Shlagman served as CEO and founder of Consult-A-Doctor from 2007 to 2013, a former telehealth company connecting patients to physicians, and to MyCity Networks, an IT company.
He added that he and his business partner were inspired by their own roles as caregivers to their aging mothers.
“I realized how I took care my mother [and] my partner took care of his mother for 10 years,” he said. “[We both] had caregiving duties and tasks. … It [caregiving] impacts so many people. It has a ripple effect into life and work.
“Among [several] things in my head, [we thought about] what was going to be [our] approach. We really came together [to study this]. We had research and sleepless nights.
“[What we offer through Care Angel] is not out there. I looked at [several programs].”
Shlagman said that the flu, a fall or the wrong medication can worsen matters for chronically ill seniors and their families.
Vital details such as skipping prescriptions, neglecting to make refills, not drinking enough water or other fluids, not eating enough or at all and being inattentive to symptoms should not be overlooked — just because, for instance, an aging mother does not wish to phone family members and burden them with her troubles, he added.
“My mother takes medications,” he said. “She’s up and down. I don’t know how she feels. Care Angel [would serve as a] virtual caregiver, checking on mother [and her] blood pressure [and] alerting me and family members when something’s wrong. [Care Angel is meant to] prevent [mother’s health status from escalating [into something] worse.”
Shlagman said that Care Angel executives and product developers researched and thought about the absence of family caregivers from the care of seniors at home and the level of expense and training required to hire home health care nurses and other staff and to purchase medical devices for use in their homes.
“Home [health care] workers [and] devices in the home are costly [to hire and purchase],” he said. “[There’s] a lot to learn and train. [There’s] a lot involved.”
He added that his team also also took into account every phase of senior care in designing the Smart Care platform.
“We saw [the] senior care continuum [and took it into consideration when developing Care Angel],” Shlagman said. “[It] shifts management [of] care [of] seniors [to this system]. [It helps the] family [keep track of mother].”
They also pondered ease and convenience in developing the platform.
“Our solution is aimed at being so simple since you need to answer the phone,” he said. “You can reach out and talk [to your aging relatives about] services.”
First, a family member using Care Angel registers with the platform and starts the app. He and she then clicks on a green circle with a “person+” icon on the page.
A Care Wizard will appear and instruct the family member to go through the sign-up process, which, Shlagman said, takes two minutes. During registration, he or she will be given the choice of recording a personalized greeting.
If the family member elects to, he or she can click on an “Care Recipient” icon and a “gear icon.” Finding a “Greetings” tab and a pencil icon, the family member can record and listen to his or her recording or hit “Re-Record” to start again.
“[A family member signs in to] Care Angel [and adds all of the information, following the instructions,” he said, demonstrating the platform at the conference. “You tell the system] who to watch [whether that is] mother [or] father and what conditions [they have]. I can record my voice.”
The calls to the aging relative from the Care Angel platform are referred to as “Care Angel VIP Care Calls,” which, Shlagman said, take less than two minutes.
The default setting allows the program to phone once on Monday, Wednesday and Friday but family members can edit the defaults to customize the system for their sick relative’s needs, he added.
Questions include “How did you sleep? How do you feel? Are you in pain? Did you take your medicine? How is your appetite? Did you drink enough water? Have you been exercising?” The system also inquires about blood pressure, blood sugar and oxygen level of the aging relative.
“[Care Angel will] call mother from the app,” Shlagman said. “ … [The] service will call [the family to let them know what is happening]. [The family] checks in on her. It [asks] her questions. [It learns if] she’s in pain [or if there is] blood.”
Family members can view data about the senior relative daily, weekly or monthly on the Care Angel VIP Care dashboard if they set it up and have access to Care Insights to learn about negative or positive health trends concerning the patient.
“[When we program the system,] we are asking [Care Angel] to take [our loved one’s] medical, blood pressure and glucose readings,” he said. “[The system] tells us what [mother’s vital signs] are. [The] reports [on mother’s vital signs] will be sent to families.”
In fact, the dashboard, which obtains its data from the Care Calls, includes information about the relative on sleep, feelings, needs, water, exercise and appetite. The Vitals section of the dashboard contains readings on blood pressure, sugar and oxygen levels if the family members set up Care Angel to retrieve it.
Through the calls and Care Alerts, the members can learn, for example, whether the relative is drinking enough water, taking his or her medicines or what their blood pressure readings were in a month.
“I [as a family member] will get alerted,” Shlagman said. “I will see the Care [Angel] insights, including blood pressure and glucose. [I learn if she is] sleeping or [how she is] feeling or, [for example, what is her] glucose [level].”
The Medications section of the dashboard exhibits whether medicines were taken, missed, skipped, ran out or were scheduled to be taken later. The Care Reports section maintains a summary of the relative’s health data in one site.
“Mother has high blood pressure,” he said. “[The Care Angel programs] are managing the blood pressure. [The Care Angel programs] are self-managed. [The program is designed to guarantee prescription drug use] adherence [and to deal with] unplanned [events].”
And the entire system can be accessed by families for free.
“Millions will use [it for] free,” Shlagman said, mentioning other software platforms Pandora and Spotify in terms of pricing and profit margins. “[There are] additional features. We want to provide as much value [as possible]. We [want to provide] additional value.”
He added that he worked with a number of senior-care organizations at the conference to forge partnerships to support and further develop Care Angel.
“[I am] working [with] partners at this conference,” he said.
“Everyone [is] in the care continuum. We may interface [with] organizations and may have contracts. [We are interested with partners who want to] help seniors and lower costs [for families]. A lot of [people] want to add value. [A] lot of customers look at what we are giving [them].”
Shlagman said that his team is dedicated to growing and enhancing Care Angel.
“Whenever you have any product, it’s a living, breathing thing,” he said. “You can get incredible [results]. [There is] constant [research and fine-tuning]. [It’s] never-ending. [It’s more] improvement. [We] take feedback.
“We want to help a million-plus families. [We are] helping families watch their loved ones. We [will] grow as quickly as it takes [to make it] grow.”