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Patient-family communications

When a loved one is in the hospital or going through ongoing treatment for a serious illness, it’s often extremely important to family members—especially those who live far away—to stay informed of changes in health status as they happen.Some studies have shown that health care organizations that foster a means of communication between the patient and the family, or involve the family directly, benefit, too—patients tend to be more at ease in their environment, more confident in the care they are receiving and better able to understand their situation.

With new technologies and new benchmarks in patient-family care practices, it is easier than ever to make sure that the link between patient and family is strong throughout their hospital stay or treatment. Consider encouraging this link in your organization today …

  1. Encourage family participation in care plans
    As patients are diagnosed with serious illness, explain the importance of involving loved ones in developing a plan of action for treatment or a plan to communicate the care plan with others. Family members often have questions that patients cannot answer—offer a follow-up appointment or consultation that offers patients the opportunity to bring guests seeking answers or looking to voice concerns directly with a care professional.
  2. Open a patient and family resource room
    Libraries can be filled with health-related resources, Internet access, a conference room or a classroom. Resource rooms at some hospitals, like the one at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Center in Hollywood, Fla., even offer living rooms and laundry facilities as a means to encourage and support a family’s presence while loved ones are hospitalized. Make sure there are plenty of sticky notes and pens on hand for visitors to record notes or questions. Stock the resource room with comforting extras, like slipper kits for each guest to take with them, or ways to quietly occupy accompanying children, too, with things like coloring books and crayons and puzzles or board games.
  3. Designate a main contact
    As you speak with patients and their families, be sure to ask questions like who needs to be notified throughout the care process and when or whether or not the family would like to designate one or more contact persons to relay updates from the medical team. Offer each family member a business card magnet with direct phone numbers and Web links to the floor or department that they can use ask questions or seek status updates of their loved one.
  4. Develop a true culture of care
    As health care providers we often get so caught up in the care of the individual that we forget to take a moment and ask family members how they are doing. This quick question can go a long way in fostering relationships and opening lines of communication. Remind doctors, nurses, technicians, receptionists and volunteers to ask this of visitors, as well as to smile and acknowledge others in the hallway.
  5. Use social media
    A number of websites have cropped up in the past few years that act as HIPPA compliant blogs of sorts specifically for hospitalized individuals and their friends and family members. CaringBridge®, CarePages™ and others act as hubs of communication between patients and their families. With the ability to post updates, pictures and message one another, these are great resources that health care professionals can promote to patients as a means for keeping everyone in the loop.

Some operating rooms have taken this concept one step further and implemented the use of Twitter® and Facebook® to update both family members and curious individuals of surgery status in real time. If your staff is willing, advertise this as an option among patients and staff as a way to keep family members in the loop. Distribute pens and stress relievers imprinted with social media addresses and contact information.

By keeping families involved in the care process, you are helping to keep them informed. This in turn boosts trust and can ease the decision-making process while positioning your health care organization as a truly compassionate care facility.

 

“Including Families in Hospital-care Discussions Improves Communication, Benefits Medical Trainees.” University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. Web. 02 Dec. 2010.

“Patient- and Family-Centered Care | Patient and Family Resource Centers.” About Memorial Healthcare System – South Florida. Web. 02 Dec. 2010.

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