Family Caregivers Need Us Too!

By | July 18, 2019

Last week I shared my perspective on Home Health and the future for those who care for our homebound patients in my post, Supporting the Healthcare Workforce of the Future. Today I share my thoughts on supporting the family caregiver.

When a patient returns home, who tends to them? Decidedly, they might have home health for a while, but those with chronic, severe conditions need long-term support for their activities of daily living and medical oversight, such as medication administration, symptom management, and continuous assessment of worsening conditions.

These duties often fall to family members who adjust their lives to provide the essential care and services to their loved ones without healthcare education, training, or the connection to a healthcare provider. The National Alliance for Caregiving estimates that 34.2 million Americans have served as an unpaid caregiver to an adult age fifty or older in the past twelve months. Using this information, by replacing this free care with paid care, this translates to amounts of $522 billion per year.

Therefore, unquestionably, recognizing, and, supporting family caregivers is paramount to the success of preserving the patient’s desire to remain in their home environment. In retrospect, I vividly recall as a resident, admitting patients, not because their condition had worsened, but rather as a way to give their family caregivers a needed break.

If we are to elevate this conversation, we are obliged to focus on Structure, Talent, and Process. It is imperative that Health Care Systems set caregiver inclusion in care as a priority, not merely as information recipients, but also as an essential member of the care team. Furthermore, it is crucial to define who a caregiver is and treat them accordingly; including providing education, training, and connectivity with other members of the care team. Family caregivers are extensions of those we serve so we need to treat them and the duty they are fulfilling with the utmost respect. Being close to the patient, they have a much better understanding of the behavioral dynamics of their family member than we do as just providers of episodic care for a short time.

Concerning talent, prioritizing a focus on the education, training, and support family caregivers need and deserve is essential. As an industry, we need to accept they are central to our teams. Therefore, they require the same levels of support that we provide to our employed caregivers. Undoubtedly, payment reform will aid in this transition. Value-based payment models are the perfect setting to realize these needs and incentivize us to deliver the needed training and support.

Our processes will need to include how to allow participation as a team member. Defining who the caregiver is, what they need, and how to maintain communication is paramount to success. Presently, we intuitively know the value of family members, but we have not pivoted to making them “one of us.”

When we speak about the care team, if it is necessary, let us also remember the family who is there for our patients when we can’t be.  They care the most, are there through thick and thin, understand the patient the best, and have the most “skin in the game.” Instead of seeing them as just another person asking questions, let us elevate our focus on their needs and understand the value they bring.