“Patient experience” has become a buzzword in healthcare circles over the past few years. In fact, a quick Google search brings up over 40 million results so it’s safe to say it’s a major focus for the industry. But what about caregivers — those folks who are caring for sick children, partners, friends, and family members?
A similarly quick Google search for “Caregiver Experience” brings up just under 160,000 results, which might make you think that the caregiver population is relatively small. But a study by the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and AARP reveals just the opposite: the number of unpaid caregivers (or informal caregivers) in America increased from 43.5 million in 2015 to 53 million in 2020. The number of caregivers caring for more than one person is on the rise as are the challenges that caregivers face in coordinating care in an ever evolving healthcare landscape. It’s important to note that these folks are juggling more than just their caregiving duties, from caring for their own families to working full-time jobs.
So why are we not talking about this critical population to the overall healthcare experience? And how can your healthcare system’s website and other digital materials support this unsung group of people who are central to supporting the health and wellness of millions?
How can healthcare marketers enhance the caregiver experience?
Make it easy for caregivers to find what they need
Helping caregivers secure access to the information they need is critical. Whether they are empowered to make decisions on behalf of their loved ones or actively involved in a supportive role, caregivers need to understand how to navigate the information-gathering process and whom they can turn to for answers.
New caregivers are not as familiar with HIPAA, PII, and sensitive health information. Providing a crash course on these rules, helping them to understand how they can secure proxy access when appropriate, and giving insight into how they can protect their loved ones’ information during and after treatment is helpful and welcome!
In times of medical crisis, caregivers are experiencing the same mix of emotions as other family members: fear, anxiety, and sorrow. The support they need for their caregiving role is particularly high at these moments. You can help them to understand what the Health Care Agent role entails, where and how to apply it, and what to consider when it comes to decision-making on behalf of the patient. A curated caregiver section on your organization’s website can help them prepare and give them a consistent space to return to when questions arise.
Help caregivers find your organization’s support services
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First-time caregivers are likely unfamiliar with the many services that health systems offer, from social workers to patient navigation, support groups, and more. Collecting this information for caregivers, highlighting how each role can impact the patient’s and caregiver’s experience, and creating an easy path to request information and connect with these resources can be done right from your organization’s website.
Having a caregiver-focused page is helpful, as is crosslinking this information through to individual departments and services. This helps caregivers discover this information whether they go through a service line or directly to your information for patients and families. It also shows that the power of your care network is wider than the doctors and nurses they will meet.
Empower caregivers to know what questions to ask
From first-time caregivers to seasoned caregivers entering uncharted waters, knowing what questions to ask is often the hardest part of the job. Providing a starting point (or even a downloadable checklist) of questions that they should consider as they speak to their loved one’s providers will help. It will also signal that your organization understands their role and wants to support them.
These questions and recommendations could span diagnosis (“Ask about definitions for any terms you are unfamiliar with”) to discharge (“What supplies should I have ready at home when my loved one is discharged?”) to home care (“What type of ongoing care does my loved one need?”) and beyond. Providing a central phone number or email address that can be routed to the care team for additional questions would be a helpful tool as well.
Show caregivers you care about their health
Caregiving is demanding — both physically and emotionally. In fact, many caregivers report neglecting their own health needs as they prioritize caring for their loved ones. And the emotional toll can be very high: In the above-linked survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 14.5% of caregivers reported that they experienced 14 (or more) days in a one-month span where they felt mentally unhealthy.
Connecting these caregivers with resources and making it easy for them to follow up on their own health needs is critical. Again, a curated caregiver website experience to speak to the importance of self-care and offer resources, appointments, and educational materials to help this population balance care for themselves and their loved ones.
I recently interviewed a caregiver who spent many years caring for her elderly parents before their passing. I asked, “What’s the biggest thing a healthcare organization could have done to support you?” Her answer was to ”demonstrate kindness.” It’s a simple request, but it’s a powerful one.
Has your health system created a culture where caregivers are celebrated, supported, understood, and championed? If not, it may be time to make the “caregiver experience” the newest buzzword.
Our Digital Healthcare Strategy team helps healthcare and life sciences organizations better understand their audiences and create digital experiences that educate, resonate, and drive action. Contact us today for more information.