Social Networking for Distance Caregiving and Aging in Place: A Case on Web 2.0 Technologies for Virtual Support

Social Networking for Distance Caregiving and Aging in Place: A Case on Web 2.0 Technologies for Virtual Support

S. Ann Becker (Florida Institute of Technology, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-609-4.ch011

Abstract

This case examines the business development process for launching a social network targeting older adult caregivers many of whom have chronic health conditions. An older adult becomes a member of a social network called iShare-With-U.biz to monitor online one or more health conditions. He or she invites family and friends to join a private network for support in distance caregiving, staying connected in personal health management, and socializing using common social networking features. Web site design is discussed in terms of usability by older adults. Health Web sites and social networks are assessed in terms of usage by age group. Options for revenue generation are identified when taking into account free and fee-based Web site membership. The case concludes with a discussion of challenges facing online startups given rapid changes in technology, minimal barriers to market entry, and a near saturation point for Web sites with social networking capabilities.
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Background

An explosion of user-generated content is reshaping the media landscape, shattering the status quo and creating new opportunities for marketers (eMarketer.com, 2007).

iShare-With-U.biz 1 is a social networking Web site co-created by a college professor and a healthcare professional with the intention of bringing together friends, family, and communities in the common pursuit of good health, quality of life, and aging in place. iShare-With-U.biz offers proprietary features for self monitoring, distant caregiving, and data aggregation with the objective of supporting every member in a virtual network of support.

iShare-With-U.biz was initially the brainchild of Professor Katherine Adams for staying in touch with aging parents geographically distant from her. Dr. Adam's father suffers from chronic pain associated with aging. Her mother plays a caregiving role often needing family support to deal with health and daily living issues. Both parents are in their early eighties, are first time users of computers, have high school educations, and have few typing skills.

Dr. Adams asked her friend and colleague, Dr. Elizabeth Schmidt, to become a collaborator in the development of a social network Web site targeting aging caregivers. Dr. Schmidt lectures and writes articles on health and wellness inclusive of healthy aging. Dr. Schmidt is a firm believer in family involvement with aging parents to maintain quality of life and promote living at home (often referred to as “aging in place”) for as long as possible. Dr. Schmidt agreed, so a small business called iShare-With-U, LLC, was formed.

Dr. Adams conducts research in related fields including human computer interaction and assistive technology to support caregivers and loved ones aging in place. Dr. Adams found that older adults, typically characterized as sixty years plus, are increasingly getting online to socialize and search for health information. Dr. Adam's parents had not previously used a computer, and they are excited about the prospect of staying connected to their daughter living thousands of miles away.

iShare-With-U.biz provides a simple capability of dynamically tracking data at personal, family, and group levels. It supports a personal journal customized by the user to track one or more health-related issues. These include: digestion and sleep quality; behaviors and moods; stress and energy levels; blood pressure and pulse; vision, taste, and hearing changes; exercise and social interaction, and others. iShare-With-U.biz applications support “on-the-go” usage through both mobile and Web interfaces.

The user has total control over personal data gathered and shared in his or her Web space in both raw and compiled formats. A novel feature is proposed using personal data and external data sources (e.g., weather) to generate reports showing data correlations. This and other features add personal value to the online experience and promote daily use of the Web site by members in a network of support.

Critical alerts, set by the user to appear in his or her Web space, highlight in real-time personal data that exceeds specified limits, external data that may impact personal health, and insights into journal entries or lack of them. The user may share alerts and in turn receive alerts from invited members. This feature promotes higher levels of site usage by engaging members and strengthening their online relationships.

An exciting innovation for iShare-With-U.biz is a proposed community forum feature whereby a user has the capability of pooling data with other community members in identifying group health trends. This engages users at a level beyond family and friends with the potential for large membership growth in both domestic and international markets.

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