According to a 2014 survey from the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, there are 65.7 million caregivers (an unpaid individual - a spouse, partner, family member, friend, or neighbor - involved in assisting others with activities of daily living and/or medical tasks) in the U.S. who provide care to someone who is ill, disabled or aged – nearly a third of the adult population. About 15 million are caregivers for someone who has Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, and more and more caregivers find themselves in the sandwich generation, caring for an aging relative while also supporting their own children. As adults live longer, these numbers will only increase.
From getting patients to an appointment on time to ensuring they follow through on treatment instructions, caregivers play an important role in supporting the care needs of the primary patient and, ultimately, achieving positive outcomes. Much has been written about the need to engage patients in their care. With these caregiver statistics in mind, it is prudent to think about extending this idea of engagement to include caregivers.
One way to achieve this is to make text messaging communication part of your patient and caregiver engagement process. In the simplest example, imagine sending a text message alert (which contains relevant and timely education, instructions or reminders) to the patient and simultaneously sending the same alert (with, of course, the primary patient’s consent) to the caregiver. This creates a situation where the caregiver is firmly in the communication loop and can follow up with the patient to ensure they got the message and are following through. In essence, the caregiver now becomes an extension of the health care provider.
The National Institute of Health supports this idea – in a recent publication they indicate that family caregivers are an essential part of any care plan for an elderly patient or any patient struggling with dementia. The agency advises that Primary Care Physicians and facilities take measures to include caregivers in the process whenever possible. By allowing caregivers to play a proactive role, patient outcomes are improved, whether the patient is living at home or in a facility.
In addition to being a valuable tool to support patient care, there is also great value to the caregiver. For those in the sandwich generation, for example, caught between raising their own kids and caring for aging and increasingly impaired parents (notably, most of these active caregivers report feeling both rushed and stressed when it comes to balancing care for their aging parents and their own children), text messaging can help them stay on top of the myriad of appointments, medication schedules and follow-up directions.
Given the important and ever-increasing role that caregivers play in patient care, it is important that health care providers consider caregiver engagement as a critical patient engagement strategy. Text messaging should be considered as one tool that can quickly and cost effectively advance that strategy.
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If you are reading this, you already know that the benefits of this communication channel are numerous and include boosting effectiveness and efficiency, improving outcomes and enhancing the patient experience. Realizing these benefits, however, is predicated on a well thought-out, end-to-end messaging initiative.