WIHI: Engaging and Supporting Family Caregivers

Date: October 20, 2016
  • Jennifer Wolff, PhD, Associate Professor of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
  • Meg Kabat, LCSW-C, CCM, National Director, Caregiver Support Program, US Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Rebecca A. Stametz, DEd, MPH, Senior Director, Clinical Innovation, Geisinger Institute for Advanced Application
  • Carol Levine, MA, Director, Families and Health Care Project, United Hospital Fund
  • Christina Gunther-Murphy, MBA, Executive Director, IHI

A lot has been said and written over the years about the important role family caregivers play on behalf of loved ones with various health conditions and disabilities. But acknowledgment of the estimated 42 million family caregivers in the US alone hasn’t always translated into needed support. All sorts of groups and agencies have done their best to help family caregivers navigate health care, locate resources, and, importantly, find one another. But, notably, outreach from the health care system itself has often been the missing link. That’s starting to change, and it was the subject of this WIHI.

Some of the pressure is coming from family caregivers and policy advocates alike. They’re drawing attention to the growing number and complexity of medical tasks family caregivers are being asked to perform for patients at home. According to one major report, nearly half of family caregivers now routinely manage multiple medications, help with assistive devices, prepare special diets, provide wound care, use monitors, and operate specialized medical equipment.
As this level of care has shifted from hospital to home, advocates say clinicians and staff need to do a much better job ensuring that family caregivers have the time, skills, and information needed to fulfill expectations. This message is now resonating with health care providers like never before. Especially as they are held accountable for avoidable hospital readmissions, this means making sure discharged patients do well (and their conditions are well managed) in any setting, including the home.  


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