Bracing for the Thorny Challenges of a Healthcare Network

Social Caregivers Network Image

My senior interactive media project is to develop a niche social media network for informal ‘caregivers’ (i.e., people responsible for a senior to elderly family member or other loved one). Its working name is: Social Caregivers Network (SCN).

My vision is to develop: a one-stop resource to help Canadian caregivers share and quickly access trustworthy recommendations that give their loved ones the best care. Unlike the plethora of recommendations from senior care companies with a profit-driven agenda, the SCN will give caregivers access to objective recommendations, tested by other caregivers who share their challenges. It will also save time by giving caregivers access to others’ discoveries/learnings.

Having never produced a social media network, I don’t know all the challenges but here are those that come to mind:

  1. Defining Scope that Meets My Audience’s Top Priorities – Caregivers face a broad range of challenges — from finding a reliable hearing aid to making an end of life decision. While tempting, the SCN can’t cover every scenario. The challenge is to narrow the scope to a feasible mandate that delivers distinct value to the end-users. As with any interactive media project, I need to start with the audience (including key personas) and its priority needs or use case scenarios. To achieve this, I plan to survey a sampling of this audience to collect qualitative data on where the needs are greatest and criteria for success. Only then, can I select the functions/features to address these needs and define the scope.
  2. Making the Interface Accessible, Compelling and Intuitive – There is no point in producing the SCN unless I strive to follow UX best practices and ensure AODA compliance. Beyond this, I plan to incorporate testing, such as a card sort, to keep the solution aligned with the audience’s habits/perceptions as it progresses.
  3. Avoiding Scope Creep – Throughout this project, I’ll be challenged to keep tasks within this scope and ensure that iterations don’t include new mandates. This will be tough as I’m sure I’ll discover many ‘great’ ideas but believe by adhering to proven project management methodologies with effective tools, I can avoid this pitfall.
  4. Proposing a Technically Viable Solution and Finding the Resources to Bring it to Fruition – Although I have some technical understanding, it’s a challenge to not ask for something that’s impossible to build.  More importantly, I need to find the human and financial resources to complete the SCN. For this, I’ll rely on mentors within and outside the college for technical and entrepreneurial guidance
  5. Adhering to Privacy Legislation and Avoiding Liability Issues – Since the SCN deals with personal health details, it must adhere to all applicable privacy legislation in Canada, as well as possibly the US.  Similarly, I need to ensure the SCN is not liable for undesirable outcomes due to community members’ advice.  To avoid both of these issues, I’ll check applicable guidelines and invest in a legal review/opinion before it goes live.
  6. Building, Nurturing and Protecting an Engaged Community – Although a social network’s long-term value is in its community and their interactions, it must be built first and nurtured. I need to develop tactics to attract members and initiate conversations/engagement, particularly in its early days.  I also need to incorporate features to mitigate/block trolls/detractors, who can tarnish the user experience.

This is my initial challenge list but I need to proactively identify and stay ahead of others as I move forward.

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Inspired by Meaningful Connections

I find the pace and potential of technological innovations exhilarating. I’m inspired by the potential to create digital solutions that are not just viewed, read or heard but those that create meaningful connections that improve people’s offline lives.

When I graduate from my interactive media management program, my dream role is to work as a digital strategist developing interactive solutions, ideally for healthcare education or health 2.0 solutions.

For my senior project, I’m torn between  two ideas that make meaningful connections with the user.  Each idea steams from topics I’m passionate about: healthcare and social responsibility.

 Empowering Patients and Caregivers

Through various roles in my career, I’ve learned how technology can benefit healthcare — from increasing productivity to improving patient outcomes. I’m inspired by technology’s potential to changes lives plus thrilled to have played a tiny role in the process.

More recently, my healthcare work has included contracts with Ontario’s Community Care Access Centres, who provide homecare and other services to seniors.  This experience, combined with caring for my 90-year-old mother, showed me the challenges Canada’s senior citizens face. It also made me acutely aware of shortfalls in our current system.

These shortfalls make it difficult for family members or caregivers to navigate the system and access the best supports for their loved ones. Unfortunately, the average consumer is not well-versed in seniors’ diverse needs but for a growing number of players, it’s a booming business. This scenario makes its hard for caregivers to find clear, unbiased answers about the steady stream of services, medications and other ‘must have’ products sold to seniors.

Much of the information I’ve learned about resources and remedies for seniors’ conditions, comes from my work, research or word-of-mouth. Once uncovered, objective answers about what form to use for a walker rebate, trusted Personal Support Workers (PSWs) for emergency respite care or the ins and outs of sleep apnea, are gold. I’ve shared them with friends caring for aged relatives.

I wonder however how much time we could save others if we shared these insights with a broader network? After all, we use social networks for professional development, news, childcare or how-to ideas. Why not have a social network for caregivers to share insights about senior care options in a specific province or for specific conditions? With our aging population, I think this is a practical interactive solution to pursue.

Maple Syrup with Worldwide Value

I’m  also inspired by Canada’s benefits and our opportunities to make meaningful connections with other cultures. In 2012, I took a ‘voluntourism’ trip to Peru to help promote a socially responsible jewellery factory. I brought a maple syrup gift for my host Peruvian family. They placed it in a back cupboard, where it likely still sits unopened.

The challenge is people in many cultures don’t eat pancakes and don’t know what to do with maple syrup.  So ‘what if’ we could create a website with a database of authentic international recipes that use maple syrup?  Students, tourists or NGO workers could access and print a maple syrup recipe for their destination country (in English or the country’s language) and present it with their maple syrup gift. This solution would enable us to ‘act local but think global’ on a small-scale and make a positive first impression of Canada, as an inclusive country.

Both ideas have merit. The caregivers’ network idea is huge but links with my long-term interest to work on health 2.0 solutions. The second is truly Canadian and timely, given this summer’s Pan Am games.

Maybe I should just flip a coin or a pancake?  What would you choose?