How & Why Hospitals Need to Recognize Family Caregivers

Publisher: Becker’s Hospital Review
Author: Daniel E. Ansel

“Families are the major provider of long-term care, but research has shown that caregiving exacts a heavy emotional, physical, and financial toll. Many caregivers who have the dual role of caregiver and breadwinner experience conflicts between these responsibilities. “

Around 29% of the US adult population either provide care or are the primary health contact for someone who is ill. It is estimated that this number will only continue to rise in the coming years. This growth in the population of family caregivers has major implications for healthcare providers since the former are the ones that provide informal care but remain unacknowledged.

Hospitals see a lot of re-admissions of patients. However, around 75% of these re-admissions are preventable. Inappropriate re-admissions pose a financial risk for hospitals and healthcare systems. Hospitals hence require innovative strategies to reduce these preventable re-admissions. One of the key resources to alleviate this challenge can be family caregivers.

“As part of a hospital’s communications strategy, offering resources for informal caregivers, both those who are the healthcare decision-makers and those who are the day-to-day caregivers (sometimes one and the same) can have a huge impact.” 

There are four major aspects that are crucial to this intervention. First of all, selecting and communicating with providers requires immediate attention. Family Caregivers usually expect different things from healthcare providers as compared to patients. Apart from clinical skills, caregivers look for providers who will communicate with them, be considerate with them, and not see them as a ‘burden’. Therefore, hospitals should make it easy for caregivers to get information that is needed for them to support their loved ones.

Secondly, the interaction of the caregivers with the hospital members has to be more effective. Right from the beginning of the interaction, the hospital should help the patient and caregiver identify the primary family contact and make sure appropriate permissions are in place. Caregivers can have a major influence on the patient’s satisfaction levels. Therefore, it is important that the caregiver feels satisfied with the information received, and is not left in doubt, especially at the time of discharge.

Thirdly, hospitals should ensure that the caregiver is well-equipped to handle the patient after their stay at the hospital. Most of the re-admissions that do take place are either because of not taking medications or taking incorrect medications, or because of not following up with the primary care physician. Since family caregivers are the ones who make sure prescriptions are filled and that medications are taken, hospitals should make sure that adequate information, help, and resources are provided to the caregivers so that they do not feel under-prepared for caring at home.

Finally, hospitals should make the long-term care process easier for caregivers. Long-term care can be taxing for the caregivers emotionally, physically, socially, and financially since it requires constant effort. Many caregivers find themselves overwhelmed and helpless in balancing the demands of their various roles and responsibilities. One initiative that hospitals can take is to build a healthy rapport and support system for caregivers so that they can be encouraged and empowered.

It is hence crucial for hospitals to understand the need for supporting family caregivers, who are the informal backbone of the support system that a patient with a chronic condition requires. By building a healthy relationship between hospitals and caregivers, an easy method of communication can be set up so as to minimize misunderstandings and conflicts in caring.

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