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They offer insight into patients’ true health status and ought to be at the forefront of healthcare decision making.
The concept of a “healthcare team” is a familiar one to medical practitioners, but who is the missing link? Beyond physicians and nurses, the patient, of course, should be at the center of all decisions. But the team members who may be missing from the roster: family caregivers.
Often the patient’s family member (spouse or adult child) or a close friend, caregivers volunteer their time to look after the well-being of their loved one. Given their time investment and genuine care for the patient, caregivers offer an important insight into the patient’s true health status and ought to be brought to the forefront of the healthcare decision-making process.
The National Center on Caregiving reports that there are “approximately 43.5 million family caregivers who have provided unpaid care to an adult or child in the last 12 months.” Of these, “15% care for two more or adults.”
Beyond the benefits a person living with arthritis receives from a loved one’s day-to-day practical assistance, studies show that social support plays a major role in a person’s health.
A Unique Perspective on Arthritis Presentation
Caregivers can go beyond just supporting their loved ones. They may help patients understand and adhere to their treatment plans. They also may help the person with arthritis keep track of appointments; follow nutritional guidelines; and even manage other aspects of life, such as transportation and budgeting.
At appointments, patients may not be as reliable as their practitioners assume. In fact, a study in The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that patients “may minimize or exaggerate symptoms or avoid key clinical issues” when talking to their doctors.
Caregivers, on the other hand, are often keenly aware of the patient’s actual health status. Their familiarity with the patient helps them recognize how the patient is feeling, adhering to treatment plans, and responding to medication. Caregivers often can provide a more accurate source of information because they are motivated to ensure that their loved one’s practitioner has a full picture of the patient’s health status.
Of course, not all patients withhold the truth about their condition during appointments. In those cases, caregivers remain a vital source of support and they can remind their loved one of anything they’ve forgotten to discuss with the healthcare provider.
In addition, with the help of mobile apps like ArthritisPower™, caregivers can help persons with arthritis develop an accurate record of their response to treatment.
Physician-Caregiver Relationships Matter
Persons with arthritis who rely on a family caregiver for daily support should feel comfortable inviting their loved one into an appointment, and with the appropriate permissions in place, healthcare providers might speak directly to both the patient and the caregiver about treatment options. This is vital if a caregiver is responsible for providing and administering medications or other interventions to the loved one. The caregiver needs to have a clear understanding of the process. Second-hand information from the patient might restrict the caregiver’s ability to ask clarifying questions.
Doctor-patient relationships are frequently discussed as being the foundation of healthcare. Trust and rapport between providers and their patients is certainly important, but that rapport must exist for the caregiver as well.
Having open dialogue and actively including the caregiver in plans allows the practitioner to consider not just the patient but also the person who will be caring for the patient. Confirming that a treatment plan works with the schedule and capabilities of the caregiver guarantees that the patient benefits from its full effects. Respectful, clear communication between doctor and caregiver removes a potential barrier to care.
Communication and inclusion of the caregiver are also important for the caregivers themselves. A practitioner’s assessment of the caregiver-how they are coping, who supports them, how they manage their lives, and what they do for themselves-can be as important as assessment of the patient.
Ensuring that a caregiver can provide for their loved one creates an extra layer of safety and control. Providers also can share resources with caregivers-from tactics on reducing stress to information about online support groups.
Caregivers can be the anchors that hold patients to their treatment plans. By eliminating the need for a home health aide or other service, caretakers reduce healthcare spending and provide patient safety.
Practitioners have a responsibility to acknowledge the role of the caregiver in patient care by actively including them in the development of the treatment plan. In doing so, they can ensure safe, reliable, and high-quality care for their patients.
Seth Ginsberg is President and Co-founder of the Global Healthy Living Foundation and CreakyJoints.