With an aging population, more and more middle-aged adults are naturally becoming caregivers for their parents and are often guiding what happens once they leave the hospital. Overwhelmed by multiple responsibilities, and under-equipped to deliver the kind of care their parents require, this “sandwich generation” seeks guidance for taking on the responsibilities of caring and planning for a loved one with new healthcare needs. Finding time to provide this guidance can be challenging for healthcare providers, particularly as acute lengths of stay are becoming shorter, leaving an increasingly smaller window of time for caregiver planning and education before discharge.
Further complicating matters is the fact that there is no one consistent process, place, or person to help educate caregivers so they can coordinate post-acute care – leaving a void that can negatively impact both patients and providers.
Research shows that one in five Medicare enrollees is readmitted to the hospital within 30 days, and up to 75% of these readmissions are preventable.1 Research also demonstrates that both 30-day and 60-day readmissions can be reduced when patients or their caregivers are educated about post-acute care options, and when a care transition plan is in place to ensure the patient has the appropriate level of care for the right duration.2
In many healthcare settings, social workers are an excellent resource for families who need this kind of support and guidance. However, social workers are often only utilized for the most complex cases.
That’s why acute care nurses are in many ways ideally positioned to help encourage and prepare caregivers to serve as an extension of the care team. Caregivers can help to ensure medication adherence and reduce the chance of a readmission.
Why are nurses well positioned for this role? First, patients and caregivers often develop a personal rapport with nurses. After all, they are often the healthcare providers with whom patients and families spend the most time during hospital stays. Second, nurses are highly credible – consistently ranking either #1 or #2 in Gallup’s annual poll, which asks consumers which healthcare providers they trust the most. And third, acute care nurses are already playing a role in extending support beyond the hospital with the help of emerging solutions like naviHealth. Solutions like naviHealth equip nurses to help determine optimal post-acute care settings, and to begin the planning process with caregivers for a myriad of new non-medical care needs.
Today’s ‘sandwich generation’ of caregivers is in desperate need of encouragement, resources and support – before their loved ones leave the hospital. Consider this:
The caregiver often takes the lead when it comes to pulling together a plan for home and community based services. This can be an overwhelming and complicated burden, especially for those with no healthcare experience. If we aid acute care nurses with technology, support tools and processes that incorporate post-discharge planning early into a patient’s hospital stay, they can help reduce this burden. Nurses can connect caregivers with key resources to simplify and demystify the post-acute care planning process. Resources may vary in each community, and based on patient need – but a handful of resource examples include:
Well trusted by and in frequent contact with patients and caregivers, acute care nurses are well positioned to connect caregivers with resources and support tools for successful post-discharge care. In doing so, nurses can help hospitals improve patient satisfaction, reduce preventable readmissions and contribute to positive, long term outcomes for patients.
Editor’s Note: Cardinal Health is dedicated to caregivers. This is one of a variety of articles we will share to address the importance of caregivers and ways to support them.
1 Nelson, Joan, DNP, ANP-BC and Pulley, Amy L., BA, “Transitional care can reduce hospital readmissions,” American Nurse Today, April 2015 Vol. 10 No. 4
2 Bowles et al, “Successful electronic implementation of discharge referral decision support has a positive impact on 30- and 60-day readmissions,” Research Nursing Health, January 2015
3 National Alliance for Caregiving, Caregiving in the U.S., 2015