Healthcare News & Insights

Family caregivers key in new discharge guidelines

As dictated by the feds, hospitals have to improve their discharge process this year. And there’s one aspect involved with discharging patients that’s getting a lot of attention right now: actively engaging a patient’s family caregiver in the person’s recovery. 

ThinkstockPhotos-450745593Usually when patients leave the hospital, their follow-up care doesn’t fall to a professional, but a family member.

These caregivers tend not to have a medical background, which means they’re often overwhelmed by what they have to do.

Legal updates

According to an article in Kaiser Health News, many caregivers don’t fully understand their role in the recovery process. Even if a doctor or nurse gives them written instructions, they often come with little explanation.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) wants that to change. As part of its overhaul of the hospital discharge process, one of the specific requirements is that caregivers need to be fully aware of what they must do to care for the patient after leaving the hospital.

Several states – 18 so far – have gone further. They’ve passed laws that require hospitals to ask patients if they have a specific person they’d like to designate as their caregiver. The caregiver must get clear discharge instructions.

The latest state to introduce one of these laws is California. As part of the new regulation, the state’s hospitals must:

  • give patients the chance to identify a caregiver
  • let the caregiver know when the patient will be discharged, and
  • provide the caregiver with clear discharge instructions that include information about the patient’s medications and specific post-discharge needs.

Laws in other states have similar requirements, and with CMS’ encouragement, similar regulations could be passed in more states down the line.

More family caregivers

There’s a bigger push for legal guidance in this regard because of one significant trend: As the population ages, more family members will act as unpaid caregivers.

The number’s already large right now. According to data from the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP, around 40 million people cared for one of their family members in the past year.

And per another survey from the AARP, 46% of these family caregivers must perform medical tasks for their relative (e.g., changing dressings, giving injections) – many times without much guidance or training from healthcare providers.

In fact, healthcare providers often aren’t even aware of just how much work family caregivers do at all. And sometimes, they assume the person who picks up the patient at the hospital is the caregiver, but that may not be the case. That’s why having detailed discussions with patients about who will be caring for them at home is crucial.

Open communication

Because clinicians will likely be talking to more family caregivers due to this new guidance, it’s important for hospitals to have a solid program in place that addresses how to clearly communicate information to caregivers – especially if they have limited health literacy or knowledge to begin with.

Ultimately, treating this process as an open partnership between caregiver and provider is crucial to success.

After all, family caregivers who have detailed conversations with doctors and nurses where they’re free to ask questions are more likely to understand how they should help their relatives after discharge.

This leads to better outcomes for patients, decreasing the chances of readmissions and other complications that can hurt a hospital’s quality ratings and bottom line.

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