The Personal Health Record (PHR) boom is reinforcing the idea of consumer-directed healthcare. Many assume that PHRs will be used for individuals to track their own healthcare, but PHRs also have the power to assist caregivers in managing the sometimes complex healthcare of a special needs child or an aging parent, for example. This particular benefit of PHRs may be especially important; as the aging population in the United States grows, there will likely be more caregivers involved in managing a loved one’s healthcare.

The number of Americans age 55 and older will nearly double to 107.6 million by 2030, and Americans over age 65 will more than double to 70.3 million by 2030. Further, 25% of Americans who reach the age of 65 will survive to the age of 90, which is a statistic that has nearly doubled over the past 40 years. Who will be taking care of these seniors? Caregivers.

A recent report, Caregiving in the U.S. 2009, was conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving in Collaboration with AARP and Funded by The MetLife Foundation. This report shows that today the average caregiver is age 49 and the average age of the persons being cared for is 69.

The demand on caregivers is often great, as many are trying to balance caregiver, work, and family. Approximately three-fourths of caregivers have worked while caregiving, and since 2004 there has been an increase in the proportion who say they have had to make a workplace accommodation because of caregiving. This report also stated that caregiving is becoming more emotionally stressful for some and some are experiencing more financial hardship fulfilling this role compared to five years ago.

Caregivers need help, and this report confirmed that there was an increase in the proportion of caregivers who are in need of more information. Tomorrow’s caregivers will be tech savvy and will most likely be turning to the web to help them get the information and help that they need. PHRs can be a powerful tool in helping caregivers reduce the barriers and stress related to managing another’s healthcare. PHRs could also prove to be a tool for disease management. As chronic disease management is seen more as a way to reduce healthcare costs, PHRs and caregiver’s use of them could actually reduce some of the burden on the healthcare system.

There is great support for PHRs, and it’s likely that this support will continue to grow as the demand for such services by consumers and caregivers will continue to rise. The American College of Physicians, American Osteopathic Association of Medical Informatics, Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, and MGMA all recently partnered to develop and publish “Personal Health Record (PHR) Quick Reference Guides” in an effort to educate consumers and clinicians about how PHRs can be useful tools for making more informed healthcare decisions and enhancing care coordination. It is likely that many more PHR resources will be marketed in the near future, and caregivers may be a very receptive target audience.