Family caregivers deserve our admiration. They make sacrifices to ensure that their ill loved ones receive the best care possible. If you’re a home care nurse or PSW, the work you do can provide these compassionate individuals with a lot of relief. Most likely, you wish you could do even more to help.
Supporting family caregivers has never been more critical. They’re estimated to save the country’s health and community services sector $31 billion annually. For patients, families, and the health care system in general, it’s important that those who provide this care are able to continue doing so.
Recently, the Ontario government made helping family caregivers a priority. In July, Health Minister Eric Hoskins announced a $20 million boost to respite care.
But is this funding enough? Will it provide peace of mind for those closest to patients with chronic and complex illnesses?
The truth is, families need many different kinds of support. In most cases, they want desperately to understand what’s happening with regards to their loved one’s medical treatment and care. They want to feel that their decisions are valued, and that they have appropriate input into what happens in the future.
From managers to frontline workers, there’s a lot that home care providers can do to reduce family member stress and anxiety. If you work in the field, you already know the difference you can make.
In this post, we’ll take a close look at three of the majors ways you can help.
1) Employ active listening
Too often, family members worry that their loved ones aren’t receiving the attentive care they deserve. But when health care professionals adhere to the principles of patient-centred care, they’re forced to listen carefully. They hear – really hear – the needs, goals, and preferences of those they care for.
This kind of communication can go a long way toward providing family members with peace of mind.
Imagine knowing that the wishes of the person you worry most about are being honoured. Now imagine that you’re concerns are also being heard. As a health care or caregiving professional, you know that focusing on these needs can make a difference for family members.
You also know just how important it is to listen, interpret information, and respond appropriately. But these tasks are easy to discuss. They’re much harder to implement.
Consider this: studies show that half of adults can’t recall the details of a ten-minute verbal presentation moments after it finishes.
Overcoming listening challenges is incredibly important in home care. It’s not just about adhering to patient and family wishes. It’s also about providing care instructions (such as those related to administering medication) that can be repeated easily.
Busy nurses and PSWs can easily forget that even relatively simple tasks are difficult to carry out in the beginning.
Using active listening, workers can address family concerns head on. They can provide clear instructions that focus on gaps in understanding.
Techniques can be applied during listening, and afterwards. Examples include making eye contact, avoiding internal distractions (such as premature thoughts about your response), and asking appropriate follow-up questions.
It sounds simple. But we’re all capable of becoming distracted without realizing it.
When it comes to supporting family caregivers, active listening results in better instruction and education, fewer misunderstandings, and more efficient interactions.
2) Show that the care team is working together
The necessity of tracking patient health care journeys is indisputable. No caregiving professional can deny the value of knowing a patient’s full health status and ongoing treatment plans.
Unfortunately, care plans are often confusing for all involved. Paper documents can’t always be updated in a timely manner. And as patient circles of care expand, coordination efforts can lag behind. From doctors and specialists to pharmacists and frontline home care workers, any health care professional could wind up treating a patient using outdated information.
This lack of coordination doesn’t exactly instil confidence in family caregivers. A devoted spouse, daughter, son, or sibling will become distressed if two nurses are clearly miscommunicating about pain medication dosages.
Of course, nobody can blame them for this frustration. But it’s also true that the right information isn’t always available to busy home care workers. Poor communication – a frequent result of health care siloing – is a major part of the problem.
These issues can prompt a family member to try to take on the role of care coordinator. The results are often predictable. Extreme stress. Clashes with home care workers and other medical professionals. And eventually, burnout.
When care plans are both coordinated and synchronized, entire circles of care can work together towards common goals. True progress can occur. Family caregivers are able to see careful planning and execution. They know that their loved ones are in good hands.
Home care providers in management positions have a unique opportunity to provide this peace of mind.
If supporting family caregivers is one of your goals, ensure that you have a system in place whereby next steps are clear to everyone within a patient’s circle of care. Every member should be working with the same plan – including updates and changes. The right technology can help.
The key is finding an app that’s easy to use, so information can be easily recorded and automatically shared.
Managers should consider creating a culture where using this technology is major priority. And frontline workers should recognize its benefits and commit to using it.
3) Make Patient Information Accessible
We’ve missed an important issue – one that’s often overlooked in health care. Are care practitioners really the only people who need to be aware of what’s happening with a patient?
Isn’t part of supporting family caregivers ensuring that they aren’t left in the dark? Every member of a patient’s circle of care has a supportive role to play. This is, of course, as true of family caregivers as it is of nurses, PSWs, physicians, and pharmacists.
Access to patient health information and care plans does more than help family members improve the lives of their loved ones. It can also provide them with peace of mind. Because many of us feel most in control when we have all relevant of information.
Supporting family caregivers is largely about giving them the tools to provide support. Information is a tool. Informed family members can help their loved ones makes important medical decisions. And of course, there are also instances when family members need to act as substitute decision makers.
No matter their responsibilities, one thing is certain: family caregivers are far more likely to feel anxious when they can’t access up-to-date information.
Digital technology can once again provide a solution. Of course, there’s been buzz surrounding the ehealth revolution for awhile now. And we all know that unexpected issues – such as technological compatibility problems – have arisen.
But solutions has evolved in recent years. Today, up-to-date health information can be easily accessed by anyone who has permission to see it – from anywhere, and 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 caregiving son pops out for some groceries while his father’s home care nurse is visiting. Let’s always say that he’s worried about a recent symptom he’s noticed. With the right app, he can pull out his smartphone or tablet and see any updates the nurse may have made to his father’s care plan.
This is the power of digital.
Supporting Family Caregivers: It’s All About Communication
Supporting family caregivers can be a challenge – especially given the many daily responsibilities of frontline workers. If you’re a nurse or PSW, you can simplify the process.
Listen to your patients and their family members. Make sure that they know that the care team is working together to meet their needs. And always keep them in the loop.
Managers at service provider organizations can help staff work toward these goals by adopting the right technologies. In the end, it’s all about good communication.
Systems that make it simple for any circle of care member to view, record, and share care plans do more than just improve care efficiency. They provide patients and their families with greater peace of mind.
Feature image courtesy of Kenneth Lu