Family caregivers play a vital role in the nation’s health care system in delivering patient care, say primary care providers, almost unanimously, in a newly released AARP Research survey. However, providers say that time constraints and not knowing who or if there is a family caregiver prevent them from working with family caregivers for more of their patients.
“Today, forty million Americans are caring for aging parents, spouses and other loved ones, and close to half of them are responsible for medical tasks like injections and wound care,” said AARP Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy & Engagement Officer Nancy LeaMond, in a statement released on February 18th. “Delivering more treatment on an outpatient basis means that family caregivers are critical members of patient care teams. The entire health care system – from providers to hospitals to insurers – must recognize family caregivers’ critical role and understand that teaming up with them can improve health outcomes and quality of life for both patients and family caregivers,” says LeaMond
The Washington, DC-based AARP conducted an online survey of 400 primary care physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants to understand their perceptions and interactions with family caregivers, their knowledge of available caregiver resources and potential barriers to working with them.
According to the research findings in the recently released “Primary Care Providers’ Experiences with Family Caregivers” report, 97 percent of the surveyed primary care providers say that family caregivers play an important part in patient care. They reported that sharing patient information with caregivers leads to better patient outcomes, higher patient and caregiver satisfaction and lower hospital readmission rates. The researchers found that most provider-family caregiver discussions involve instructions on managing medications, performing medical and nursing tasks, and arranging transportation, meals and other services.
Nearly seven in ten of the provider respondents believe they will be working more often with caregivers in the next few years. Nurse Practitioners/Physician Assistants are more likely to believe they will be working with caregivers more often.
The survey found that among the various health care provider roles, physicians were the most likely to speak with caregivers (84%), followed by nurses (74%), nurse practitioners (44%), and receptionists (44%).
But, the primary care providers also noted that there are barriers to interacting with family caregivers, too. These barriers include patients had multiple caregivers, were not aware of caregiver identity, fluctuations in caregiver involvement and too time consuming.
Researchers say that when providers and caregivers talk with each other, most often these discussions center on managing medications and arranging transportation and meal services. But they often go deeper. Two-thirds of respondents say they also discuss emotional aspects of the caregiver role — a well-documented issue among caregivers. To encourage more collaboration, survey respondents suggest offering longer appointments and reimbursing providers for time spent with caregivers.
The survey findings noted that most often providers learn about new caregiving resources from colleagues, followed by the internet and in-office materials. Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants are more likely to learn about resources from colleagues and the internet.
The surveyed providers also said that lack of time is also a key barrier for nurses and receptionists in working with family caregivers.
For details of the AARP study, go to