Modern healthcare is increasingly reliant upon a strong partnership between providers and secondary consumers such as caregivers. The role of these consumers in patient engagement is especially important with elderly patients, who are more likely to have caregivers. Effective patient engagement strategies must help patients cope with both complex medical regimes and the resulting changes in their daily lives. Supportive actions provide an effective return on engagement with caregivers by helping them address the needs of their loved ones. This article explores the difficulties of engaging the caregiver instead of the primary healthcare consumer.
Role of Caregivers
Informal caregivers are part of the backbone of long-term healthcare due to their ability to help loved ones manage their health conditions. This essential role means that healthcare providers need to consider caregivers as direct healthcare consumers. Patient engagement strategies should therefore include the transfer of knowledge from traditional clinical settings to daily care environments.
The transition from a patient-centered healthcare model to a family-centered model emphasizes the caregiver's role in optimizing long-term health outcomes. Caregiver engagement must also consider the physical, psychological and social challenges of the caregiver's burden. This engagement is especially crucial in cases involving medically frail patients such as the elderly.
Advances in medical technology are allowing elderly patients to live longer, making their care management more challenging. ResearchGate reports that the majority of chronically ill elderly patients have more than one chronic condition, which increases the complexity of managing their health. The long-term care of these patients therefore requires a long-term perspective that must actively involve family caregivers.
Strategies for Engaging Caregivers
Caregiver engagement generally refers to behavior such as seeking information on the patient’s condition and making decisions based on that information. These decisions primarily involve selecting options on regimen and care, but they also include making life plans regarding the course of diseases. These roles mean that healthcare providers often find that they get the best results by engaging caregivers, who are usually present during visits and typically ask more questions than the patient.
In fact, the role of the caregiver may be great enough, in some cases, that the majority of a health professional’s conversations are with the caregiver rather than the patient. This dynamic results in significant consequences regarding the exchange of information on the patient’s care, including specific procedures and their costs. For example, caregivers in this situation often face the problem of continuously learning new information that may be difficult for the layperson to understand.
Changes in a caregiver’s life present additional challenges with engaging them on healthcare issues. For example, a chronically ill patient requires caregivers to change their daily routine, especially with respect to work and travel. The change in the division of duties and reduction of social life can also make caregiver engagement more difficult.
The practical aspects of managing a chronic condition are another barrier to effectively engaging caregivers. These duties include daily problem solving tasks such as planning meals to comply with the patient’s dietary restrictions. Additional tasks that caregivers routinely perform include adherence to regimens for exercise, medication and rehabilitation.
Caregivers Are a Critical Link in Healthcare
Healthcare providers should appreciate the crucial role that family caregivers play in the long-term care of patients. These people are best able to consistently reassure patients, who are typically anxious, uncertain and vulnerable. Providers should use patient engagement strategies that encourage the active participation of caregivers on the care team.
Caregiver engagement is a complex process that requires the professional care network to continuously transfer knowledge to the caregiver. Providers should also implement technologies that will provide the skills needed to facilitate this transfer. These resources for supporting caregiver engagement typically include online web portals and phone services, with some innovative caregiver engagement apps under development.
Like patients, caregivers can also be segmented psychographically, in order to develop and deliver messages that are consistent with the caregivers’ motivations, personalities and attitudes. c2b solutions looked at caregiving among the psychographic segments in the 2015 c2b Consumer Diagnostic study and found two segments who are most likely to be in a caregiver role: Willful Endurers and Self Achievers:
Note: Each psychographic segment in the table above has a corresponding letter a-e. If a percentage has a letter underneath it, then that percentage is statistically greater (95% confidence) than the percentage corresponding with that letter.
Willful Endurers and Self Achievers are polar opposites in their health attitudes and behaviors – Willful Endurers are reactive and less invested in researching options, while Self Achievers are proactive and wellness oriented. How a clinician discusses health and wellness with a Willful Endurer should be different than how that clinician engages a Self Achiever.