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Engaging Family in Care of Hospitalized Loved Ones Improves Outcomes

A voluntary program that allows family members of hospitalized patients to participate in their care enhanced healing and reduced readmission rates, according to a study published in the medical journal CHEST

Photograph courtesy of Intermountain Medical Center.

Intermountain Healthcare’s Partners in Healing program provides opportunities for family members to help with basic care for their loved ones, which helps them prepare for taking over care responsibilities when the patient goes home. The program also allows the patient and family member more control over when they perform the care activities rather than following a schedule when the nurse or patient-care tech are available. And it improves communication between the family and the staff, said Michelle Van De Graaff, RN, of Intermountain Medical Center.

“The vast majority of families like to have something to do, and they like to participate in patient care. They’re often the most motivated member of the care team,” said Van De Graaff. “We’ve found that families not only want to promote healing, but patients benefit from someone who knows their preferences, and the result is, the rate of readmissions is reduced after patients are discharged from the hospital.”

Partners in Healing is the first program in the field that shows drafting families as clinical care partners during hospitalization may reduce readmissions.

In the study, researchers compared adult patients at Intermountain Medical Center whose families participated in the program with those whose relatives did not. The 30-day readmission rate was 65 percent lower for patients whose families participated in Partners in Healing. Participant feedback showed that 92 percent of the patients said the program enhanced the transition from hospital care to home care, and 94 percent said they’d highly recommend the program to other families. Family members acquired relevant caregiving skills and reported feeling empowered, integrated into the care team, and confident. They said those feelings reduced their anxiety, increased their confidence in caregiving tasks at home, and aided in the patient’s healing process.

The program works like this: The bedside nurse introduces the program, and family members who want to participate are taught several basic skills that are appropriate for that patient. They are then given a badge that indicates to staff that they’re part of the care team and have access to drinks, snacks, ice, and blankets for their family member. A checklist is taped to the patient’s door, and program participants write what they do, such as helping with breathing exercises, assisting with activity, measuring urine output, etc. The nurse then transfers the data into the computer record.

“These are simple tasks, but they give families a sense of control and knowledge about what they can and can’t do,” said Van De Graaff. “By inviting them onto the healthcare team, we’re also preparing them to take over care when a patient goes home.”

This article was adapted from information provided by Intermountain Medical Center.