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Removing Caregiver Burden with ACP

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

In many cases, serious illnesses are a family affair. Spouses, children, siblings and other caregivers are often deeply involved in their loved one’s serious illness, assisting with everything from daily care to emotional support. Although the benefits of advance care planning (ACP) are often framed around the patient, ACP also provides numerous benefits for caregivers. 

When caregivers are involved in ACP, they can feel confident their loved one will receive the best possible care that aligns with their goals. Without this preparation, the pressure of making care decisions can be overwhelming — and harmful — to caregivers. In this article, we’ll explore some of the benefits of ACP for caregivers that you may not have considered yet. 

  1. Eliminates the stress of decision making

Above all else, ACP removes caregivers’ burden of making care decisions on their loved one’s behalf. During a healthcare crisis, this preparation can be invaluable. Instead of agonizing over what their loved one would want, or struggling to settle on the “right” choice while under pressure, ACP allows caregivers to focus on spending time with their loved one and ensuring their wishes are followed.

ACP provides confidence and direction to caregivers. Seeing their loved one’s wishes in writing gives the guidance they need to implement their loved one’s decisions, rather than shouldering the burden of making the decision.

  1. Removes family friction

Without ACP, families and caregivers can also face inordinate friction around medical decision making. This friction can stem from many factors, such as uncertainty about who is supposed to make their loved one’s care decisions, or disagreement on the best course of action for their loved one. 

ACP puts the power of decision making in the hands of the individual with the serious illness. The individual can think through their family dynamics ahead of time to prevent family conflict from getting in the way of effective decision making. Throughout the process, caregivers can review the individual’s wishes and “what if” scenarios, giving them forethought into how an emergency situation might go and allowing them to voice their concerns in advance.

  1. Improves the health of caregivers

With all of the stress that surrounds medical decision making, it’s no surprise that ACP also improves the health of caregivers. The benefits of ACP for caregiver health are well documented; one study published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society found that 48% of surrogate decision makers of patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome experienced moderate or high levels of decisional conflict. In contrast, surrogates who engaged in ACP conversations had significantly less decisional conflict, with a mean score 3.3 points lower on the Decisional Conflict Scale.

Another study in The BMJ found that the bereaved caregivers of cancer patients who died in the hospital had a heightened risk for developing posttraumatic stress disorder and prolonged grief disorder compared to those who died at home. Interventions aimed at decreasing terminal hospitalization, such as ACP, can decrease the risk of developing psychological disorders for bereaved caregivers.

ACP: Good for caregivers, too

While the benefits of ACP are often discussed in the context of individuals with serious illnesses, this service also brings incredible value to caregivers and loved ones. By involving caregivers in the ACP process from the outset, health plans can help remove the stress of decision making, mitigate family conflict and even improve the long-term health of caregivers.

In order to truly maximize the benefits of ACP for caregivers, health plans should look for ACP solutions that:

  • Initiate care planning well in advance of any serious medical events
  • Unite family members in one “room” via remote tools
  • Provide expert support through scenario-based decision making
  • Allow time for caregivers and families to review their options independently

At Iris, our specialized ACP services are designed to support both caregivers and individuals with serious illnesses. We start the planning process early, allowing everyone involved to feel confident about their care choices. Our proprietary, disease-specific AD documentation captures member care goals in straightforward terms, removing complexity for family members during the event of a medical emergency. To learn more about how Iris can improve your health plan’s ACP services for everyone involved, get in touch with our team today.

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