Care Providers: How to Support Family Caregivers

4 Tips for Caregivers of Chronically Ill Loved Ones
March 6, 2018
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Care Providers: How to Support Family Caregivers

Stressed woman

A woman is stressed

Family caregivers deserve more credit than they get. They give up their valuable time to ensure that their ill loved ones can receive the care they need. Having the assistance of a home care nurse or PSW can help to relieve a great amount of stress from these compassionate individuals. Most likely, you wish you could do even more to help.

Supporting family caregivers is more critical than ever. They’re estimated to save the country’s health and community services sector $31 billion annually. It is crucial for patients, families, and the healthcare system that those providing this care are able to continue.

The Ontario government has made helping family caregivers a priority. In July 2016, Health Minister Eric Hoskins announced a $20 million boost to respite care.

Is this funding going to continue to provide those closest to the patients with chronic and complex illnesses with peace of mind? Has it been enough?

In the end, families need many different kinds of support. Most importantly, they want nothing more than to understand what is happening with regards to their loved one’s medical treatment and care. They want to know that their opinions and decisions matter, and their input is important.

There is so much that home care providers can do to help relieve family member stress and anxiety – from managers to frontline workers. If you work in the field, you’re aware of the impact a little assistance can have.

In this post, we’ll take a close look at three of the majors ways you can help.



1) Actively listen to their needs

It happens frequently that family members become concerned that their loved ones aren’t getting the care and attention they deserve. When heath care professionals focus on the principles of patient-centred care, they’re forced to listen carefully. They really take a step back and hear the needs, goals, and preferences of who they’re caring for.

This is the kind of communications that will put family member’s minds at ease.

Knowing that the requests of the person you worry about are being honoured can provide you with a sense of comfort. Now, imagine if your concerns are being heard as well. As a professional in health care or caregiving, you know how much focusing on those needs can make a difference for family members.

You really learn the importance of just listening, interpreting, and responding to information appropriately. Although these tasks are easy to discuss, implementation is much more complicated.

Studies show that almost half of adults struggle to remember the details of a ten-minute verbal presentation just moments after it finishes.

Listening challenges are crucial to overcome when it comes to home care. Not only do you have to be aware of adhering to the family’s wishes, but you also have to be conscious of providing care instructions that are easy to understand and repeat.

As nurses and PSWs get busier, it is possible for them to forget that even the tasks that seem the easiest are challenging to carry out in the beginning.

By actively listening, health care workers can address the family’s concerns effectively. The can provide them with clear and simple instructions in an effort to avoid any misunderstandings.

Techniques such as making eye contact, avoiding internal distractions (such as premature thoughts about your response), and following up with appropriate questions can be used to demonstrate truly listening. Although it sounds simple, we are all guilty of subconsciously allowing ourselves to be distracted when we shouldn’t be.

When it comes to supporting family caregivers, active listening results in better instructions and education, fewer misunderstandings, and more efficient interactions.




2) Work together as a team

No caregiving professional can dispute the importance of knowing a patient’s complete health status and ongoing treatment plans. Tracking patient health care journeys is a necessity.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for care plans to get confusing for those involved. Physical documents are not always updated right away. And coordination efforts can lag behind as patient circles of care expand. Unfortunately, with many different health care professionals involved – from doctors to specialists, pharmacists, and home care workers, any of them could wind up treating a patient using outdated information.

This lack of coordination can add an extra amount of stress for family caregivers and rightfully so. A caring daughter, spouse, or sibling will become quite concerned if two nurses are clearly miscommunicating about something as important as pain medication dosages.

Of course, this frustration is justified. But it’s also true that the right information isn’t always available to busy home care workers. A major part of this problem is poor communication.

When families witness issues like the aforementioned, it is not uncommon for them to feel the need to try to take on the role of the care coordinator. The results are predictable – extreme stress and clashing with other members in the circle of care. And the inevitable; caregiver burnout.

The process can be made much more simple when care plans are both coordinated and synchronized, allowing the entire circle of care to work together for the patient’s goals. This allows the family members to see the planning and thought behind the care provided for their loved one and feel confident knowing they are in good hands.

When supporting family caregivers, you must ensure you have an effective system in place where they are aware of the next steps for their loved one. Every member should be involved and aware of any updates being made. This can be done efficiently with the right technology.

Finding an app that is easy to use and can connect everyone in one place is key. This can simplify information storing and ensure that it is automatically shared in real-time.

Managers should consider creating a culture where using this technology is major priority. And home care workers should understand the importance and benefits of committing to it.



3) Make information accessible

There is still one important issue that tends to be overlooked in health care – are care practitioners the only people who need to be aware of what’s happening with a patient?

Family caregivers cannot be left in the dark and it is part of the health care professional’s job to ensure that isn’t happening. Every member of a patient’s circle of care has a role regardless of their title.

Not only does access to a patient’s health information and care plan help family to improve their loved one’s care, it also puts their minds at ease. It gives them a sense of control knowing they have all the relevant and updated information.

Supporting family caregivers is largely about giving them the tools to provide support. Informed family members are better suited to make important medical decisions for their loved ones. Of course, there are also situations where family members will have to act as substitute decision makers.

Regardless of their responsibilities, one thing is for sure: family caregivers are far more likely to feel anxious when they can’t access their loved one’s up-to-date information.

This is another scenario where digital technology can provide some relief. There has been increasing buzz surrounding the ehealth revolution for awhile. Of course, issues such as technological compatibility and the security of stored data have arisen.

However, these solutions have evolved and made progress in recents years. Real-time heath information can now be accessed easily by anyone who has been given permission to see it. This information can be viewed or updated from anywhere, at any time.

Home care providers on the lookout for technology should consider the usefulness of real-time updating and mobile device accessibility. Consider these features from from the points of view of family caregivers, as well as patients.

Let’s say a patient’s daughter has to go out of town for the weekend. She has been the main family caregiver for months now and usually attends her father’s doctor’s appointments with him. She will not be able to accompany him on Saturday but instead, can pull out her smartphone for an instant update from his nurse. With the right app, this can be made possible and real-time updates can be tracked anytime a member of the circle of care makes a change to the care plan.

Digital health technology is not to be overlooked.



Supporting Family Caregivers: Communication is Key

Supporting family caregivers can always be challenging – especially given the many daily responsibilities of frontline workers. If you’re a nurse or PSW, you can simplify the process for them.

Listen to the wishes of the family members and the patients. Ensure they know that the care team is working together and focusing on their goals. Make sure they know that they are always going to be kept in the loop and follow through with that.

Managers can help their organizations by adopting the right technologies for their staff to use. In the end, good communication will make all the difference.



Featured image courtesy of The Telegraph