Hands-on: CareZone helps caretakers keep track

By Barbara Krasnoff (@BarbaraKrasnoff / ) - February 21, 2012.

Many of us who have hit adulthood now have at least one person -- a child or an aging parent or a disabled spouse -- to care for, and often have several. Those of us who have had this experience know how complex this task can be, dealing with teachers, doctors, insurance, alternative caretakers; the list can seem endless.

There have been some efforts to offer services that handle health issues online; Google's recently shut-down Google Health service, for example. One of the latest to be introduced is CareZone, an online service that offers to help caretakers track all the information they need in order to be more effective -- and less crazed.

CareZone was founded by two people well-established in the tech market: Jonathan Schwartz, the former CEO of Sun Microsystems, and ex-Microsoft developer, architect and development manager Walter Smith. A big emphasis, according to Schwartz's blog entry on the site, is on privacy -- which is why, he says, the service will be funded by its users rather than by advertising. (The service will cost $5/month or $48/year.) "Unlike a social media site," he says, "you are our customer, not our product." The only people to have access to the information in the site, he adds, are those each user designates.

A necessary assurance, considering that CareZone is meant to contain a great number of important and private information. I took a quick run through and was impressed with what I saw, although it is obvious that there is still a great deal of work yet to be done.

Journal-CareZone_440.jpg

The CareZone display is divided into three parts. The right side has a list of your various "helpers" -- people who also have access to the information. The left side offers a list of the journals that your account contains (each journal holds the information for one cared-for individual). Under the name of the journal is a list of the various sections it contains; click on a section, and its information appears in the center area of the window.

The main journal page contains a running list of notes -- not dissimilar to blog entries -- that you can make to keep track of events or let other caretakers know what's happening; you can also hold a threaded online conversation with them. Other sections keep track of medications, to-dos, contacts, notes (such as bank accounts or instructions on how to handle certain situations), uploaded files (such as copies of important papers) and general profile information.

The interface is extremely clean and well designed; it's simple enough so that even less technically-inclined users shouldn't have a problem figuring out how to handle it. (Just in case they do, the link to customer support is right underneath the helper list.)

There is obviously a long way to go before this is a complete solution for caretakers. For example, the first thing that I thought of as I went through it was the lack of a way to export the data; this, for me, would be a showstopper -- I've seen enough online services disappear to know that if you're going to use one to keep a great deal of information, you need to be able to save that information locally. (Not the mention the occasional need to access the data if you're not online.)

I checked the Feedback area of CareZone's support page, and other popular requests from current users, aside from data export, is for mobile apps (which, not unexpectedly, the company is already working on), a way to add reminders, general links for helpful organizations, and the ability to set privacy settings so not all the helpers have access to all the information. (So, for example, a nurse's aide doesn't necessarily have access to the section that contains bank account numbers).

All that being said, CareZone is a good start on a service that could be enormously helpful, especially to members of the "sandwich generation" who find themselves caring for children, parents, or both.

Currently, CareZone is offering free one-year accounts that will allow you to enter information for up to three people if you register before March 17th. Basically, of course, this is an incentive for beta testers to kick the tires of this new service and see if it works. In this case, if you have somebody you are caring for (or even if you want to simply enter information for yourself), CareZone may be worth a kick or two.

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