January 14, 2016 — Blog Post
How hospitals can engage a crucial population—family caregivers
This month, a new law in California went into effect—one that should greatly benefit patients and their family caregivers.
Family caregivers are instrumental in helping patients with new medication regimens and moral support, and often do the work of a nurse, tending to wounds and much more. But as mentioned here in the past, they’re often not identified in the patient’s medical record (a sort of undocumented worker) or given the tools they need to do this important work helping people transition to home.
The new law, SB 675, requires hospitals to involve a family caregiver during the hospitalization and discharge process. And it’s part of a trend, with 18 other states passing similar laws in the past 2 years. As the overall population ages, the number of unpaid family caregivers continue to grow. In 2013, a Pew Research Center study found family caregivers grew from 30% in 2010 to 39% by 2013.
Why family caregivers are critical to engagement
To get a sense of the magnitude of what these unpaid caregivers do, AARP estimates each individual provide an average of 18 hours of care per week, with a combined total of 37 billion hours accounting for about 90% of long term care. Not surprisingly, as people live longer with more complex needs, AARP reports that more than half are overwhelmed. Giving them better communication, resources and support is critical.
The California law requires that hospitals give patients an opportunity to identify their caregiver, notify that caregiver when the patient will be discharged, and give information and instruction on the patient’s needs and medication when they’re discharged.
This is great news from a health literacy perspective. Only 2 people are consistently present across the care continuum: The patient and the caregiver. Patients can’t be expected to remember all of their medical information when they’re released from the hospital, and we know that handing them a sheet of paper with instructions doesn’t cut it. And even if the family caregiver gets great education and information at the hospital, it’s just too much for people to take in and remember, at a time when they’re stressed and worried they’ll be able to manage.
How hospitals can comply with new laws
These laws also put pressure on hospitals — which are already under a ton of pressure with regulatory requirements and patient satisfaction issues.
Yet, under these new laws, healthcare providers need to engage patients and their caregivers consistently during the care transition process—reinforcing instructions, explaining the importance follow-up appointments, motivating behavior changes and offering morale support for a daunting set of tasks they were never trained for. This is when technology can help ensure people get what they need in a way they can review it at home, get smaller doses of information at the right time, and understand when to reach out for help.
For example, while still at the hospital, patients, their primary family caregiver, and even adult children who live across the country can sign up to receive series of interactive voice recognition (IVR) phone calls and short multimedia programs that can help a everyone understand what’s going on and how to stay on track. This kind of EmmiTransition series can help a family understand what pneumonia, COPD, or heart failure is — and what meds like water pills do, or why it’s so important to make sure their family member weighs themselves each day. Coming from a medical family that went through this, looking back, it’s clear we could have used this kind of help to stay focused and remember everything we needed to do day to day.
And because IVR technology can also collect key information for the hospitals — like whether people still have questions around new meds, if the patient has new symptoms or side effects, or a patient with heart failure gained a few tell-tale pounds — it’s also a great way for hospitals to know when specific family caregivers need more help. So they know how to better use their limited human resources.
This kind of invited outreach should not be confused with robocalls. In fact, patients and their family caregivers often find the calls and information reassuring, and even a welcome source of contact in what is often a socially isolating time.
The focus on family caregivers is the right one. They are doing a lot of heavy lifting. But there are resources to help educate and support them that can also help hospitals increase their reach and identify who needs more support. You can learn more about how Emmi can be a resource with care transitions in this ebook.
- More and more states are passing laws requiring hospital communication with family caregivers.
- These laws are beneficial to patients and hospitals, but do require hospitals to take on additional work, which can be added pressure in an already pressurized environment.
- The right patient engagement technology can help healthcare organizations reach and support family caregivers in way that scales, which can improve clinical and financial outcomes.