Are you involved in providing care for patients who live at home? If so, you’ve probably been struck by the devotion of family members who take on care responsibilities.
Today, health sector professionals are aware that it’s part of their jobs to support family caregivers. Whether you’re a doctor or a nurse, a policymaker or a home care executive, there’s something you can do to help.
But what does it really mean to make life easier for a caregiver? At a time when health care funding is limited, what kind of help can you realistically provide? Being there for patients and their families – or making decisions that ensure care workers are there when they’re needed – is key.
Unfortunately, providing in-person support isn’t always possible. But technology offers the next best thing.
Face-to-face videoconferences with qualified professionals. Accessible, up-to-date, and easy-to-understand health information. With these tools, family caregivers can provide higher quality care. Importantly, they can also achieve peace of mind.
The apps that make these goals possible can be very affordable for providers. And because they’re available on mobile devices, they also make support simple and convenient.
Here are four ways you can use the right app to improve the lives of family caregivers.
1) Improve Care Coordination
Being actively involved in the care of a loved one is stressful. Too often, extra responsibilities make family caregiver stress even worse. Take, for example, care coordination.
How do family members wind up taking on care coordination duties? If you work in home care, you’ve probably seen it a hundred times.
The condition of a complex patient changes. A busy home care worker is unable to update the patient’s information instantly. A professional miscommunication occurs – about a prescribed dosage of pain medication, for example. A family caregiver sees all of this, and he begins to worry.
There are still many communication challenges in home care. Even as the sector grows, geographical distance between team members continues to create obstacles.
These obstacles aren’t invisible to loving family members, who push themselves to fill perceived gaps in care. Often, the minimize the levels of responsibility this entails.
Consider this observation from America’s Family Caregiver Alliance. Many family members who carry out tasks like coordinating care and making medical appointments don’t even consider themselves caregivers.
Part of offering support for family caregivers is understanding how much they’re taking on alone. Another part is providing sufficient care coordination.
With the right app or technology, care plans can be shared across circles of care. They can be updated in real-time – and accessed by family members in an instant. By adopting the right mobile app, care team members can help.
The ability to view and change care plans from a mobile phone or tablet improves coordination even more. It means care team members can make and discover changes, wherever they are.
In short, the patient’s doctors, nurses, specialists, and personal support workers (PSWs) should always be on the same page. Family caregivers will rest easier when they are.
2) Update Them in Real-Time
We know that sharing information in real-time can lead to better care coordination. And for family members, seeing care teams work together can be very reassuring.
But it’s not just about providing reassurance. When a family caregiver has on-demand access to care plans, they’re in the best possible position to help their loved ones. Ongoing updates can have a direct impact on how they choose to provide care.
Using the right app, every person within a patient’s circle of care can view her health information. Family members can take comfort in the knowledge that they’re taking truly informed action.
Convenience is important. While professional caregivers work specific hours, family members are often thinking about their loved ones around the clock.
Consider this scenario. A worried son stands in line at the grocery store. He’s thinking about his mother’s most recent oncologist appointment, which took place earlier in the day.
This, of course, is where mobile devices comes into play. Why shouldn’t a family member be able to access relevant health information on a smartphone or tablet? And why shouldn’t that information be accurate and up-to-the-minute?
Care workers want to support family caregivers, and real-time information sharing is a critical part of the process.
Providing digital access can reduce some of the anxiety associated with sharing. Understandably, family members can lash out when they hear news that makes them emotional. As a result, care team members often adopt a less-than-straightforward approach.
It’s important to remember: there are very good reasons to keep family caregivers in the loop. The peace of mind you’ll help them achieve is one of the biggest.
3) Reduce Caregiving Errors
A recent study found that just one fourth of patients leaving the hospital have the reading skills to comprehend their discharge instructions. Other factors – such as medication use and mental fogginess – can also get in the way of understanding.
It’s important to recognize that these issues can impact family members, too.
It’s not always patients who carry out the directions issued by care professionals. Often, this responsibility lies with a loving daughter, son, sibling, or spouse.
For some, written instructions aren’t clear or direct enough. And despite best efforts to remember them, demonstrations can be forgotten later on. For example: being shown how to adjust a loved one’s breathing apparatus once or twice may not be enough.
The problem is, family members don’t always feel comfortable voicing their confusion. They may also be unaware of it until they go to carry out a procedure on their own.
It goes without saying that the workday of a home care professional is hectic. When a family member doesn’t ask questions, it’s easy to assume he understands and then move on.
But when specialized care procedures are involved, it’s important to support family caregivers as fully as possible. On-demand instruction and coaching is the answer. But (unfortunately) care professionals can’t transport themselves to patient homes whenever they’re needed.
This is where a communication app can help. Videoconferencing with a qualified professional can make all the difference.
Just as many patients have difficulty navigating technology, family caregivers may have trouble finding the right health care contact information online. But with the right app, calling someone who can help is as easy as tapping a tablet screen.
For family caregivers, what could be more useful than seeing a care demonstration – right when it’s needed?
4) Act as a Lifeline for Patients
For many patients, living independently is a challenge. Cognitive and mobility issues can make carrying out self-care activities difficult. And sometimes, reaching out for help is impossible.
Consider a patient who has mild dementia. Can those who love her be sure she’ll remember to take her medication when they’re not around? And what if an urgent situation occurs?
Let’s say the patient’s children don’t believe it’s time to look into alternative care options. They may still worry about the progression of her condition. Will their mother remember who to contact in an urgent situation? What if she forgets how to make a call?
The fact is, most caregivers aren’t able to devote themselves to their loved ones 24/7. If you’re a home care professional, you empathize with their pain this situation can cause. After all, you can’t always help your clients as much as you wish you could.
In these circumstances, videoconferencing can act as a lifeline. The right app allows patients – including those who have difficulty operating technology – to make instant, face-to-face connections with trusted caregivers.
Intuitiveness and ease of use are key. In an urgent situation, patients should be able to touch a picture of the person they want to call.
This technology is also helpful for patients who need reminders, coaching, and health monitoring. Regular check-in sessions with the right circle of care members can make independent living more secure.
What could offer a family caregiver greater comfort than knowing her loved one can get help when she needs it? When you support patients, you also support family caregivers.
Support Family Caregivers, with Communication Technology
In the past, policymakers and home care service provides often forgot about family caregivers. This group of dedicated workers provides so much value for their loved ones, and for the health care system.
Respite care is crucial, a fact the Ontario government has begun to recognize. But many existing challenges are communication-based.
Family caregivers need ongoing access to care plans and health information. They need real-time support from care team members. And they need the peace of mind of knowing their loved one will receive help when necessary.
At a time when health care dollars are still limited, the right mobile communication app can help fill these gaps.
Feature image courtesy of Global Panorama