By: John Lavey | Hammock President/COO

The period after my father suffered a heart attack and the 75 days until he died was my most up-close-and-personal experience with healthcare. The work to help my mom and serve as a caregiver to my dad was the most important job I’ve had in healthcare. The work I do for clients, while informed and enlightened by my experience, is secondary.

Caregiving is the subject of a great story from the New York Times about one family’s experience. It highlights what Axios calls “The Unofficial Health Care System,” which refers to how essential a support network of families and friends are to the delivery of good patient care. Babysitting, bringing meals, walking dogs, providing rides and taking parents to appointments are all vital aspects of healthcare. While there are efforts to provide tax relief to caregivers, it’s largely uncompensated care.

When we think about engaging patients as consumers, we are missing a big part of our audience if we aren’t thinking about the support network behind those patients. What can we do better from a marketing and communications standpoint to engage them? A few ideas:

  1. Honor the importance of the role of caregiver. The role of caregiver is unpaid, but with greater attention, it doesn’t have to be thankless. Think about engaging caregivers with patient engagement education, especially related to higher transparency standards and the importance of pre-surgery consultations. Those extra steps will improve patient care, reduce the risk of readmissions and increase patient satisfaction.
  2. Acknowledge the need for caregiver involvement. Today it’s wholly inadequate to simply relay to the patient, “Please have a family member or friend drive you home from this procedure.” The best healthcare providers communicate with patients on every aspect of the experience from the critical to the mundane, whether that’s their financial responsibility at the point of service, what to expect after they return home and even where to park. Consider where caregivers intersect with patients on important issues involving work, child or pet care, transportation, and care afterward.
  3. Communicate directly with caregivers where appropriate. Not knowing what to expect is one of the most maddening aspects of being a caregiver. When my dad was in the hospital six years ago, even though he was in one of the best cardiac centers in the United States, I never knew when to expect a followup from a doctor. When my dad went home, the anxiety caused by wondering what symptoms warranted a return to the hospital made the experience even more stressful.

Takeaway: While caregivers are a critical part of your patient’s experience, are you treating them as if they are an important part of the care delivery team?

Photo | Getty images

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