Carl Hirschman wants to make it easier to track the care of ill and aged loved ones online. CareTree, launched last year by Hirschman, helps users coordinate and share medical records with trusted family, caregivers and medical providers.
The easy-to-navigate website allows users to create free personal profiles for loved ones. They can input personal and medical contacts, log future appointments and store advance health care directives. Other features include secure messaging, emergency updates, a shared, centralized calendar and a HIPAA-compliant permission system. Users choose who can access their profiles.
The idea, Hirschman told Life Matters Media, is to give patients and caregivers the ability to quickly share vital information with each other. For instance, a seriously ill patient facing memory loss could allow a caregiver access to his or her profile to log visits and track medications. The same patient could then grant his or her adult children access so they can review any significant changes.
Hirschman said his mother helped inspire him to create CareTree in 2011 during a conversation about the challenges she faced communicating with caregivers for some family friends.
“She works full-time and found herself playing phone tag with professional caregivers if she didn’t immediately answer their calls,” he said. “When they did call, she had no idea if it was something urgent or something routine, like needing more supplies. I asked why they didn’t email or text, and she said it was because of concerns over HIPAA.”
Hirschman began asking nurses with Cantata Adult Life & Senior Care Services in Brookfield, Ill., about their struggles communicating with patients’ families and caregivers. “They said they had similar struggles, but they didn’t have a way of dealing with it,” he said. “As an entrepreneur, if you get told that enough times, you end up creating it.”
In 2012, the CareTree concept was selected as a national finalist in the AARP Health Innovation @ 50+ Live Pitch event in Chicago. “That was huge validation that we were on the right path,” he said.
CareTree was offered the opportunity to work with TigerLabs Health, a start-up accelerator based in Princeton, N.J.
“That really but the foot on the gas, and we made it happen,” he added. “This was my first software project, and I’ve learned a lot in the past two years. I began by just sketching out layouts and using Power Point to create the mock-ups.”
CareTree, still undergoing beta-testing with an unpolished look, tends to respond more quickly with the Google Chrome browser, although it is accessible with a smartphone or tablet.
Planning for the Future
Pamela Patterson, director of informatics with Cantata and a registered nurse, said patients and families appreciate CareTree’s usability.
“I think CareTree is kind of a catalyst for helping to change the face of aging,” she told LMM. “It helps move health care to a more person-centered model.” Cantata was one of the first companies to offer CareTree to clients.
Patterson said before CareTree, it was difficult to connect Cantata-based seniors with family members across the country.
“One senior has two adult children who are bi-coastal. They are very involved in her care, but one of the things that always was problematic was that if she had a change in her condition, they couldn’t get to her fast enough, and they couldn’t always know what was going on,” she said. “Every time I visited her, I sat down and typed an email to her kids. But that was only about once a month.”
The family was one of the first clients to adopt CareTree. “They like being able to interact with her. Now they can sleep well knowing their mom’s condition,” she added.
CareTree is the latest in a series of online startups designed to help adults plan, manage and store advance health care directives. Ronette Leal McCarthy, legal counsel for Elements the cremation company and a member of the Chicago End-of-Life Care Coalition, said she is skeptical of most websites catering to the ill and aged.
“Content-wise, I think CareTree is a great concept, but I would like more information before I would sign-up for it,” she said. “In general, I think these sites are worthy ideas, and they have positive attributes, but anything that is holding legal or medical information, I have a bit of skepticism. What if the company stops being active? Who owns your information? What if the site goes down? Is the site secure?”
McCarthy suggests those choosing to store information online also keep physical copies of legal and medical documents in a binder.
When asked about security and the possibility of storing thousands of medical records, Hirschman said he believes CareTree is safer than many hospital electronic medical records.
“People are already using technology and their information is already out there. If a patient doesn’t sign up for it, but one of our providers does, they already have everything in a technology format,” he said. “It’s actually kind of scary, if you go into a hospital right now, your record is part of the EMR, and most likely, every employee at the hospital can see your medical record, any employee. With our system, it’s the people you invite who can see your medical record.”
Unlike popular networks like Google, Facebook and LinkedIn, Hirschman said CareTree will not sell advertisements. “Everybody will be invited and can create a CareTree record for free, but there are certain features people will upgrade to to help them in their businesses,” he said. “It isn’t likely to be the patients paying for it, instead it will hospitals, senior housing providers and home health companies.”
Hirschman envisions CareTree will operate similar to Adobe Acrobat, where everybody has access to the free PDF reader, but only certain professionals need the Adobe Suite to create and edit those documents.
“I’ve got my medical records in it, and so does my mom.”