Unveiling the Unsung Heroes: How Family Members Impact Patient Outcomes
The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on the crucial role played by patients’ family members — often referred to as family caregivers — who support ill, disabled, or injured loved ones after a hospital stay. These family caregivers take on responsibilities previously handled by medical professionals, often without formal training or education. However, caregiving is a challenging and demanding journey, impacting caregivers' physical, emotional, social, financial, and overall well-being. In the paper “Identifying family caregivers as preventive medicine: An essential component of comprehensive primary care,” researchers explore how to best support family members for optimal health outcomes.
The Scope of Caregiving
Before the pandemic, there were 53 million family caregivers in the United States alone. This number has likely increased significantly. The average caregiver spends 24.4 hours per week on caregiving tasks, often juggling these responsibilities with work commitments.
The Impact on Caregivers' & Patients’ Health
Caregiving takes a toll on caregivers' physical and mental health. Caregivers are at risk of developing medical and mental health issues, with 23% reporting that caregiving has worsened their own health. Symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder are common among caregivers. Moreover, caregivers neglect their own health needs, sacrificing doctor's visits, healthy meals, and exercise. This neglect can ultimately impact caregivers’ ability to continue supporting their loved ones, leading to poorer care recipient health outcomes.
Challenges in Identifying and Connecting with Resources
Many family caregivers do not know about available support services, such as local support groups or respite care, to help them manage this physical and mental burden. The lack of support and education exacerbates caregivers’ stress, burnout, and health-related issues.
Strategies to Support Caregivers
By engaging family members with education from the onset of caregiving duties, healthcare organizations can improve outcomes for family caregivers and their care recipients. Empowering family members with accessible, comprehensive education about their role will more clearly set expectations, ensure they have the appropriate knowledge to help their loved ones effectively, and guide them toward relevant support services. Healthcare organizations can leverage digital health technologies to effectively engage family members to deliver the right information at the right time.
Family caregivers are vital in supporting their ill, disabled, or injured loved ones. By providing accessible education to family members, healthcare organizations can prevent caregiver burnout and promote better health outcomes.
- Baumblatt GL, Applebaum AJ. Identifying family caregivers as preventive medicine: An essential component of comprehensive primary care. JHD.2022;7(3):507–511.
About Diya Health
Diya Health is a Silicon Valley-based digital health company that streamlines hospitals' communication with patients' family members to improve satisfaction ratings and increase clinical staff efficiency. The HIPAA and GDPR-compliant platform complements EHRs for inpatient, discharge, and post-discharge communication. Learn more at www.diyahealth.org