How IT modernization positioned CaringBridge to respond in times of crisis

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By Ben Dolmar 

Technology has kept patients and caregivers connected to their family and friends during the COVID-19 pandemic. A gesture as simple as a text to a loved one can make all the difference — but we often forget how recently these small comforts arrived. 

The integration of healthcare and technology was vastly different when CaringBridge launched 23 years ago. Without smartphones, WiFi and the connectedness taken for granted today, keeping everyone updated was time-consuming and exhausting. In 1997, CaringBridge was ahead of its time in recognizing this — and in launching a first-of-its-kind online platform that allowed patients, caregivers and loved ones to communicate easily throughout a health journey.

If this sounds like a social network, it is — CaringBridge was doing in 1997 what giants like Facebook do today, but with a limited set of tools and with a nonprofit budget. Today, the organization estimates that 1 in 13 people worldwide have used CaringBridge and to date, more than 850,000 sites have been created to provide health updates and allow patients and family caregivers to experience the love and support of community. 

Despite being ahead of its time, the organization still faced technology challenges. In 2018, leadership realized its core infrastructure from the 1990s would no longer cut it. A transformation had to occur if CaringBridge was to remain useful for those needing a safe online place to turn for help, hope and healing. 

Upgrading legacy infrastructure is a Nerdery specialty and the company was familiar with the CaringBridge platform through previous collaborations. Already aligned on the necessity for continuous innovation to keep pace with how people use technology, Nerdery and CaringBridge charted a course toward technology modernization.

Considerations for modernizing legacy health systems

There are several universal lessons that emerged during the modernization project with CaringBridge that may help guide healthcare leaders as they think about their own digital futures. Following is some advice for a successful healthcare modernization journey:

Move deliberately.

Modernizing decades-old core infrastructure is complex, and usually requires a certain amount of downtime. But for CaringBridge, any disruption in connection between patients and family caregivers and their support systems wasn’t an option. A more surgical response was required—starting with an infrastructure assessment and creating a roadmap that was slow and careful. Nerdery and CaringBridge progressively rebuilt the app page-by-page, and deployed each piece independently to take best advantage of the cloud’s scalable resources. The result is an upgraded user experience without disruption and added agility—positioning CaringBridge to make changes much more easily in the future. 

Focus on accessibility.

CaringBridge wanted its modernization to position the organization for the future, so accessibility was an important component. One in five Americans have some form of disability, and studies have shown businesses that take accessibility seriously perform better, so efforts were guided by W3C’s accessibility standards. In the end, Nerdery improved the Google Lighthouse accessibility score of CaringBridge to 100%—meaning the platform is now accessible to far more users than before. 

Make updates speedy.

With more than 300,000 visiting CaringBridge daily to give and receive information, speed and response time are essential, so infrastructure upgrades were prioritized to reduce page load times by more than a second.

Choose a future in the cloud.

The technical side of the CaringBridge story is that Nerdery was able to provide greater benefit from service-based architecture running on cloud-native infrastructure with a combination of Kubernetes and containers. But what does that mean from a business standpoint? CaringBridge now has more agility to make changes to its product and is  better positioned for the future. 

The forward-thinking of CaringBridge and strategic approach to working with Nerdery has ensured the platform remains a safe online place where no one goes through a health journey alone. This is particularly important through a pandemic, when isolation can have negative effects on health outcomes.

Ben Dolmar is Director of Software Development at Nerdery.

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