Helping the helpers: Support for caregivers gives health systems competitive advantage

Nancy stops by her mom's house on her way home from work and notices her mom does not look as well groomed as usual — her clothes are rumpled and her hair isn't combed. Nancy's mom says her arthritis is bothering her today, and she had some problems getting out of bed.

Concerned, Nancy drops in to see her a couple of days later. This time, she notices her mom has body odor and a bruise on her arm. Her mom admits that she is having trouble getting in and out of her bathtub, and in fact, had a recent fall.

If you were Nancy, worried about your mom, and now realize you need to take on a big, new responsibility for her care without any prior experience or training, where would you turn? That's what many people in your community face each day as they step into the role of caregiver for an adult family member.

Almost 40 million Americans are family caregivers, providing assistance and support to a loved one. It's a responsibility with enormous stress — and one for which most are unprepared.

Why should hospitals care about family caregivers? Family caregivers are the strongest defense against complications that could result in avoidable hospital readmissions for older adults. And that's just the beginning of the list of benefits they provide – usually for free. Here, we'll see how supporting family caregivers can give hospitals a competitive advantage, expand market share, strengthen brand preference, and improve patient satisfaction – and we'll look at a platform that offers hospitals a ready-to-go turnkey solution for family caregivers.

Family Caregivers: Essential Members of the Care Team
Forward-looking hospitals know they need to position themselves as the experts in caring for older adults. The care and cost implications are significant. More than 10,000 people turn 65 every day, and Medicare makes up the majority of hospital revenue. Family caregivers fill out 30-40 percent of those Medicare patient satisfaction surveys that now impact provider reimbursement. They are also often the first line of defense in avoiding hospital readmissions.

Active Daily Living
There are thousands of products and tips are out there to help people manage challenges with activities of daily living, but what's been lacking is a central place to learn about these things, and specific guidance tailored to individual patients or caregivers. Active Daily Living was designed to address the ever-growing need to help seniors stay healthy, safe, and independent.

Branded as the hospital, Active Daily Living is a comprehensive platform of informational resources that support seniors and family caregivers through interactive, online modules and tools, and health assessments that identify functional limitations and environmental hazards of at-risk seniors. Active Daily Living then helps seniors with personalized advice and no-cost or low-cost ideas, enhancing their ability to age in place.

ADLs and IADLs
Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) are the basic tasks of everyday life, such as eating, bathing, dressing, toileting, and transferring. Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs) are activities related to independent living and include meal preparation, money management, shopping for groceries or personal items, light or heavy housework, laundry, and using a telephone. Issues with IADLs are often the first indication that your loved one needs help.

Positioning Providers as the Go-To Resource
Supporting a loved one usually starts small. A daughter goes online to make sure her mom chooses a reputable physician. A nephew realizes his widowed uncle may be a fall risk and looks for help. Active Daily Living is designed to position healthcare providers as the first and most trusted source for answers. It gives caregivers a place to turn for practical answers, not only regarding a loved one's care, but also guidance to reduce the stress and uncertainty that accompanies caregiving. The provider effectively becomes a caregiver's partner in providing better care for his or her loved one.

Support Throughout the Caregiving Journey
To understand how Active Daily Living works to support a caregiver throughout the journey, let's take a closer look at Nancy, who has just realized her mom is having some issues related to aging.

Nancy searches online for help and finds her hospital's Active Daily Living resources. She discovers some Quick Tip Videos that show her how to help her mom bathe without risking a fall in the tub, as well as tips for getting dressed without pain.

Nancy then takes the mobility assessment to see if there are other issues such as getting in or out of bed, or walking, that her mom might be dealing with. She gets simple to implement ideas to help. She receives a personalized report with safety tips and suggestions, as well as accessories that can help her mom with balance. Nancy decides to go along for her mom's next checkup, and she finds a checklist in the Active Daily Living Caregiver Navigator guide for what to bring to the appointment and what to ask her mom's doctor.

At the Doctor's Office
The Caregiver Navigator helps Nancy and her mom gather what they'll need to take to the appointment. They discuss questions to ask. Nancy is able to ask some of the difficult questions her mom might not bring up, so they know what to expect in the future.

At the Hospital
They learn that Nancy's mom needs to be hospitalized for a hip replacement. Again, Nancy feels more prepared from what's she's learned from the Caregiver Navigator. She's able to help her mom:

• Prepare for her hospital stay
• Better understand what to expect in the hospital (including how pain issues are addressed)
• Best ways to communicate with the physicians and nurses
• How to prepare for post care after discharge
• How to reduce the chance of her mom being readmitted unnecessarily

After the Hospital
Using Active Daily Living resources, Nancy learns what to look for in a short-term rehab, what adjustments her mom's home will need for her to be safe and independent, and realizes the importance of her mom's medication routine to avoid a readmission.

Filling Out the Survey
Nancy fills out the patient satisfaction survey her mom receives after her hospital stay. Nancy's experience with Active Daily Living has made her feel informed and empowered throughout her mom's hospital stay. Consequently, Nancy's responses are more positive because she was recognized and included as a part of her mom's care team.

Ongoing Support
Nancy continues to be a caregiver for her mom as her health changes over time. Nancy receives ongoing support and information through Active Daily Living with e-newsletters tailored to her mom's conditions, declining abilities, and Nancy's own caregiving needs. She learns the latest information about arthritis and her mom's other health conditions, and about related services and specialists available through the provider. She also has access to assessment tools and ideas on how to assist her mom as new challenges present themselves. She learns ways to cope with the growing demands of caregiving and how to protect her own health. Perhaps most importantly, she's able to find out what her mom wants and can talk with health providers openly about her mom's preferences.

Important Benefits for Key Health System Goals
Active Daily Living's interactive content and personalized advice helps caregivers and seniors better understand and navigate the healthcare system. At the same time, that informed caregiver or patient can help the healthcare system achieve key goals, including:

• Population health strategies, such as better chronic disease management and prescription compliance
• Enhancing senior health and women's health service lines
• Reducing avoidable hospitalizations and readmissions
• Increasing patient satisfaction scores
• Increasing patient acquisition and market share

For providers assuming any level of risk, specific risk profiling allows at-risk providers to make timely interventions for high-risk seniors as well as those who may become high-risk.

Staying Ahead of the Curve
Hospitals need resources to support caregivers and seniors. Paying attention to a long-ignored audience – family caregivers — can set a health system apart in its market, as well as provide a great community benefit. The benefits for families, providers, and the broader community add up to more effective and efficient healthcare delivery, better communication between clinicians and caregivers, and stronger brand preference across generations.

Dan Ansel is co-founder, president and CEO of Active Daily Living and Private Health News. He creates innovative services and programs used by hundreds of clients to advance the success of healthcare organizations in serving their communities. He can be reached at dansel@privatehealthnews.com and 513-731-6700, ext. 17

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.​

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