There are apps for nearly everything -- ordering food, catching rides and finding dates, to name just a few of the common tasks people accomplish via a swipe of a screen. Now, a Boston-based company wants to make thinking about and planning for death just as simple.
Cake, as in “a piece of cake,” is a website and soon-to-launch app that asks people a series of yes-or-no questions about the end of their lives in order to help them think about certain issues, plans and needs. The topics include funeral preferences and financial planning, as well as whether there are places people want to see before dying and how satisfied they would be with their relationships if they died tomorrow.
The Cake questionnaire is online right now, and Suelin Chen, Cake co-founder and CEO, said the team aims to launch the Cake app within the next month. Chen developed her project in collaboration with the Innovation Hub at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
“One of the biggest problems right now is that even if you want to have these conversations, most of us have no idea where to start. It's daunting and overwhelming,” Chen said.
“Even though we know ourselves, we may not truly understand our own values around end of life because most of us haven't spent much time thinking about it. We developed the app as a way to ease people into thinking about the end of life.”
Chen and co-founder Mark Zhang, a palliative care specialist, said that hundreds of people have signed up for Cake online since they launched in beta testing mode in early October. She said she hopes the Cake process will help people “surface our values and remind us to focus on what's most important so that we can live better.”
According to recent surveys, this kind of focus about the end of life is one that many people want but few people get. A survey from Boston-based nonprofit The Conversation Project, for example, found that 90 percent of Americans say it’s important to talk about dying with loved ones but only 30 percent have done it. Another recent poll from the Pew Research Center found more than 25 percent of U.S. adults had rarely or never given thought to what kind of care they wanted from doctors at the time of their deaths.
Cake's co-founders see their project as part of the antidote to such statistics. After users go through the questionnaire, which can be completed in one sitting or in pieces, Cake generates a shareable profile. It has four parts: legacy, funeral, health and legal/financial. Depending on how a person responds, Cake suggests actions to take and summarizes views into succinct statements. “I could have a better backup plan for my life and my assets,” says one possible result under “legal/financial.” “Quality of life is more important to me than living as long as possible,” says another under “health.”
Users can sign into their Cake accounts, which are free, via email or Facebook. For $99 a year, they can access a concierge version that includes email access to one-on-one Cake consultant, as well as facilitated conversations with loved ones about the end of life. During the beta period, the concierge version is free, and users can sign up at JoinCake.com.
The company is also planning to sell “Cake books,” custom-designed prints of a person’s end-of-life views and preferences.
The app is targeted toward users who want to talk about dying to their loved ones, as well as those who want to share their end-of life-wishes with their doctors and caretakers.
“We interviewed dozens of health care professionals and routinely heard doctors say that bringing up advance care planning ‘is the hardest part of my job.’ Even doctors who are trained in how to have these conversations find it challenging to bring up,” Chen said. “Additionally, there's often not a lot of time at the doctor's office. It makes sense to provide a synchronous tools that empower people to think about things on their own and with their families while they're in the waiting room, or at home.”
Chen, who previously worked as a field researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital and as a health care consultant, added that the app isn’t supposed to replace in-person conversations.
Instead, "Cake serves as an icebreaker, a resource and a launch point for conversation," she said.
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