Care Providers: How to Support Family Caregivers

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 personal support worker (PSW) can help to relieve a great amount of stress from these compassionate individuals.

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. Above all else, families want to understand what is happening with regard to their loved one’s medical treatment and care. They want to know that their opinions and decisions matter and their input is important. Caregivers need to be heard in order to provide the best care to the patient.

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

1) Use Active Listening

Oftentimes, family members become concerned that their loved ones aren’t getting the care and attention they deserve. When healthcare professionals focus on the principles of patient-centred care, they are forced to listen carefully. This means taking a step back and hearing the needs, goals, and preferences of the patient.

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. Particularly because nearly half of adults struggle to remember the details of a ten-minute verbal presentation just moments after it finishes. Implementing strategies to make your advice easy to interpret and remember can enhance the experience of the patient and their families. 

It is normal for nurses or PSWs to forget that tasks that are easy for them can be challenging and complex for inexperienced caregivers. Healthcare workers can address the family’s concerns by actively listening during appointments. Provide caregivers with clear and simple instructions to prevent any misunderstandings.

To demonstrate to the patient and their family that you are actively listening, prioritize eye contact, avoid internal distractions (such as premature thoughts about your response), and follow up with appropriate questions to demonstrate engagement. When it comes to supporting family caregivers, active listening results in better instructions and education, fewer misunderstandings, and more effective interactions.

2) Collaborate With the Care Circle

No healthcare professional can dispute the importance of knowing a patient’s complete health status and ongoing treatment plans. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for care plans to get confusing between those involved. Physical documents are not always updated right away and coordination efforts can lag behind as the patient’s circle of care expands. With many different healthcare professionals involved – from doctors to specialists, pharmacists, and home care workers, any of them could accidentally treat a patient using outdated information.

This lack of coordination can add an extra amount of stress for family caregivers. A caring son or daughter, spouse, or sibling may 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 is also true that the right information is not always available to busy home care workers. A major part of this problem is poor communication.

When families experience issues like the aforementioned, it is normal 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 of 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 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.

Managers should consider creating a culture where using this technology is a priority. And home care workers should understand the importance and benefits of committing to it. Finding an app that is easy to use and can connect everyone in one place is key. This can simplify storing information and ensure that it is automatically shared in real time.

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 the family to improve their loved one’s care, but 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 a while. Of course, issues such as  technological compatibility and the security of stored data have arisen. However, these solutions have evolved and made progress in recent years. Real-time health 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 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

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