4 Ways to Build Family Support for Patients Via Mobile App

If you’re a care coordinator, you pride yourself on the connections you form with patients. As a result, you may be hesitant to use new technology to communicate with them. After all, it’s often the ability to reach out and touch somebody that means the most.

A patient’s family members may have similar concerns. The brother and daughter who can’t always be there in person want to know that their loved one is in good hands. They might wonder whether you and the professional caregivers you work with should be providing care remotely.

Family members often feel anxiety not only about the services you’re providing, but about their own supportive capabilities. At any given moment, it can be hard to know what a loved one needs—especially when she’s facing the unknowns of accompany serious illness.

In these situations, negative assumptions are often made about communication technology. And that’s understandable. But the truth is, it can make a real positive difference in the lives of patients. One of the ways it does that is by helping family members provide better support.

As a care coordinator, you’ll be surprised by how well a mobile app can supplement (not replace) the care your team provides. You can put the minds of family members at ease regarding technology—and help them use it to be there for the patient they love. In this post, we’ll give you four reasons to consider this course of action.

1) Mobile apps make sharing medical updates easy 

As a care coordinator, you’ve probably encountered it before: family members who worry about being left out of the loop.

It’s not always easy to access comprehensive health information—even when you have permission to do so. Family members may have difficulty getting the complete story from their loved one, either because psychological stress has impacted her recall, or because she doesn’t want others to worry. In many cases, cognitive impairment is also an issue.

Without up-to-date information, the son who lives out of town might miss opportunities to be there for his mother. He may not know when it’s time to start driving her to oncology appointments, or whether she needs to be reminded to take medication.

For all of the challenges they pose, electronic medical records (EMRs) were developed to improve information sharing between health care providers. But what about patients and their family members?

The right information-sharing app will provide a place to access all of a patient’s up-to-date health information. It will be convenient and intuitive, allowing family members to log in from wherever they are—and understand updates instantly.

When families know the facts, they’re better positioned to provide support.

2) They allow you to provide family members with emotional insight

Care coordinators can’t do their jobs without empathy. But being able to put yourself in a patient’s shoes isn’t enough. You need to channel that empathy in productive ways that meet the unique emotional needs of the person you’re caring for.

Luckily, you have the training, experience, and personality to do that. But not everyone does. This explains why family members may not jump to provide appropriate support, even when they have access to all relevant information.

Ontario health care organizations have recognized the contributions of family members to their loved ones’ care. The recent funding provided for respite care for family caregivers is a great example. But all too often, we forget that what many people need is a more complete understanding of what their loved ones are going through.

With the right mobile communication app, professional caregivers can use videoconferencing technology to speak directly to family members. As a care coordinator, you may want to talk to a family about a patient’s care plan—not just the logistics, but how each step is likely to impact their loved one emotionally.

Nurses or personal support workers (PSWs) can connect with family on an ongoing basis to offer advice on how best to offer support. For example, how does the person receiving care feel about upcoming treatments or test results?

3) They make it easy to connect from a distance

A mobile app can never replace the connections formed by two people sitting and talking in the same room. But it can strengthen them.

There are times when patients will be alone. Family members must recognize this fact, whether their loved one lives at home or in a long-term care facility. But they’re also bound to worry—especially if they act as long distance caregivers.

Videoconferencing makes it possible to check in with an ill relative—from anywhere, at any time. Making a call with a communication app provides a far stronger connection than making a phone call.

A son can look at his mother’s face while she speaks in order to get a better idea of how she’s actually doing. A sister can brighten her brother’s day with a smile—even if he can’t get out of bed.

The right mobile app will be intuitive and easy to use—important qualities for patients with mobility limitations or cognitive issues. When making and answering calls is as easy as tapping a familiar face on a tablet screen, family members can feel confident that their loved one has access to necessary support.

4) They allow you to strengthen a family support networks

A study out of North Carolina found that living without a social support network can be just as bad for a person’s health as smoking. For many care coordinators, this information probably isn’t surprising. You know the critical difference that connectedness can make.

In many ways, integrating family members into a larger network—a patient’s circle of care—is key. Shoring up support and strengthening connections can help make the care planning process more productive. For this reason alone, it should be a priority for care coordinators.

But there’s another reason to ensure that family members connect with relevant health care professionals and caregivers: to put their minds at ease.

For a restless sister, knowing how to get in touch with her brother’s nurses, physiotherapist, and dietician can provide a sense of control.

The anxiety some family members feel regarding remote care is understandable. But there are ways to make the value of supplementary visits clear. With the right mobile app, families can simply log in to see updates, recent care plan progress, and even information related to recent nurse and PSW visits.

Ultimately, family members who are given full access to information regarding their loved one’s care will come to understand that her care team has her best interests at heart.

Feature image courtesy of Nita

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COPD Education – Onboarding

Objective

To complete a thorough needs assessment / initial evaluation for a COPD patient of an outpatient clinic

Actors
Patient, Educator (Nurse, RT, the Physician could also be the educator)

Timelines
One 60-90 min session with the Educator

Description
  • This protocol should be established for all COPD patients from a given clinic, independently of whether they are new patients or they are known to the clinic. This protocol is the basis to engage the patient into other protocols such as education, exacerbation follow-up, etc.
  • We need to identify patient goals/concerns to guide the interventions
  • A thorough evaluation is carried on, with the objective of understanding where the patient is on their disease journey and follow-up treatable traits: dyspnea, exacerbation or dyspnea and exacerbation.
  • It includes the use of objective questionnaires such as the mMRC, CAT, HADS, Frailty Scale, etc.
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COPD Education – Continuous Maintenance

Objective 

To cover in depth all the necessary elements of self-management education as per the LWWCOPD, with priorities based on patient goals and identified treatable traits

Actors
Patient, Educator (Nurse, RT or Physician)

Timelines
A number of “Core” educational modules have been identified which cover the basic COPD education from the LWWCOPD program. Additionally, optional modules can be used to respond to patient needs. The timeline (frequency, number of modules to be covered at a given education session) is fully customizable, although we recommend to have education sessions every 2-weeks during the “active” phase of education. Once this is completed, the patient continues to the Maintenance Mode (see below).

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The Maintenance Mode
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COPD Respiratory Status Follow-up

Objective

Monitoring of stable patients from a clinic in order to identify early any aggravation of symptoms (exacerbation) and implement an action plan

Actors
Patient, Educator (Nurse, RT or Physician)

Timelines
Scheduled regular automated follow-up to the patient symptoms. Intensity/Frequency can be adjusted by the Educator depending on patient needs (e.g. daily, every week, etc.). Ongoing through the year.

Description
  • Launch: Patients who have completed the Core Educational including setting-up an action plan.
  • Regular automated questions allow to identify any change in patient’s symptoms and severity.
  • If an exacerbation is detected the patient gets a reminder to engage their self-management strategies while waiting for the Educator to call back.
  • An alarm is generated for the Educator, so they immediately call back the patient. At this call they will evaluate any further intervention required and schedule additional follow-up.
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