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The Value of Health Caregivers

"Let's put the care back into healthcare." Those were the starting words of Scott Williams, a former patient and also a family caregiver to his mother. In his TED talk, Scott shared on the importance of health caregivers (not to be confused with clinicians) outside the hospital setting. He asks for more recognition for family caregivers.

Scott points out four unique roles the health caregiver assumes in most cases. The first is the Personal Care Provider, which provides personal care including setting up doctor's appointments, reviewing financial statements while balancing accounts, and going grocery shopping, among other tasks.

The second role Scott shares is the Medical Care Provider role. In some instances, the family caregiver provides medical care similar to a nurse's aid including medication administration, wound dressing changes, and assessment of vital signs. The caregiver may also perform activities of daily living that are health related such as maintaining personal hygiene.

The third role the caregiver assumes is that of an Advocate. The Advocate speaks on behalf of and supports the patient's needs publicly. Simply put, caregiver Advocates lobby for the needs and affairs of the patient.

Lastly, the caregiver assumes the emotional role of a Support Care Provider. The Socioecological Model teaches that there are five levels of integration to health. The second of those levels are interpersonal factors including provider, family, community health worker/ promotora, friend and patient navigator. The caregiver assuming the Support Care role fits well into the interpersonal level of intervention; another phrase used to describe this is the provision of Social Support. A publication from the Current Opinion in Psychiatry (2008) said that "... findings often show a robust relationship in which social and emotional support from others can be protective for health."

The Mayo Clinic shared in a 2015 article on the benefit of social support networks. Caregivers are part of the social support network of family and friends meeting the needs of the patient outside the healthcare system. Mayo Clinic presents (1) a sense of belonging, (2) an increased sense of self-worth, and (3) a feeling of security as three benefits of a social support network.

Not only is there a social support value, but also a financial value. The financial impact of health caregivers is quite enormous. Let's put things into perspective. According to the AARP (2017), "The total estimated economic value of uncompensated care provided by family caregivers in 2013 surpassed total Medicaid spending ($449 billion) and nearly equaled the annual sales ($469 billion) of the four largest U.S. tech companies combined (Apple, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Microsoft)." How's that for an impact?!

Even if the healthcare systems fail to realize the social, emotional and supportive impact of caregivers on their patients, the financial impact should warrant a higher premium on the value of health caregivers.

What then can you do as a healthcare leader? You could encourage (or create, if within your wheelhouse) recognition programs for health caregivers for your most frequent patients. You could bring them in, support their personal needs, and possibly empower them to better care for their loved ones. Could you imagine the impact of caring beyond the patient? Doing so could empower the health caregiver better. That caregiver could better ensure the patient follows up on their Primary Care Provider's appointment, make sure their prescriptions are filled, and meet other needs.

If at all you can't create such a program in your facility, you should, at the minimum (in the words of Scott Williams) "embrace a caregiver." Let's put care back in Healthcare. Let's care, not only for our patients but also for their caregivers.

PS: It should be no surprise to anyone that women are 70% of the caregivers in America. International Women's day was just last week; thankful for all the amazing women in my life.

Here's the Link to the TED Talk

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