Are Family Caregivers an Overlooked Audience?

March 1, 2014

Ask The Expert with Daniel E. Ansel

Daniel-AnselA daughter stops by her mother’s house on her way to work and finds her mom unable to get up and that her speech is slurred. She’s had a stroke. A young wife and her husband are enjoying a vacation, and he suffers a brain aneurysm. In an instant their lives are changed forever. Elsewhere a doctor calls a patient’s relative in a far-off city to say, “Your sister has an infection. She is confused right now and can’t tell us much. Can you tell me if she’s traveled to a remote area of the world recently?” In the course of the conversation, the call’s recipient learns that her sister has been in the hospital for several days and that her kidneys are failing. A son who lives across the country from his parents learns that they are no longer able to stay in their home because of their chronic health problems.

These examples are all too common for the more than one in four U.S. adults (29 percent) who provide care or who are the primary health con­tact for someone who is ill, disabled, or elderly. Estimates suggest that the number of caregivers will only continue to rise. The U.S. popula­tion age 65 and older is expected to double between 2000 and 2030, in­creasing from 35.1 million in 2000 to 71.5 million in 2030. Two-thirds of Americans expect to be caregivers in the future, and 43 percent report that it is very likely that they will become a family caregiver at a future time. Those trends have significant implications for healthcare pro­viders.

Hospitals and health systems need to recognize the importance of the lay caregiver’s involvement in the care plan – from selection of provider, to interaction with the provider, throughout treatment, and especially in discharge planning. Why is edu­cating and involving caregivers so important? Consider the fact that nearly 20 percent of Medicare hos­pitalizations are followed by read­mission within 30 days, and the vast majority of them appear to be un­planned. In fact, 75 percent of these readmissions are preventable, ac­cording to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission. At financial risk for inappropriate readmissions, hospitals and health systems will increasingly seek innovative strategies to avoid cuts in Medicare payments.

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