Identifying Family Caregivers! is the theme for National Family Caregivers Month 2011. Despite the huge role family caregivers’ play in the care of their loved ones, despite the fact that family caregivers are the only people consistently present across all of their loved ones’ care settings, family caregivers are invisible in American healthcare.
Nowhere on medical intake forms is there a question about whether someone is, or has a family caregiver. Nowhere on a person’s medical record is there a place for a notation of any kind about their care status. Without such information, the role of a family caregiver in the life of a person with chronic conditions is essentially negated, and without such information, a family caregiver’s increased risk for depression and chronic disease cannot be monitored. In some situations, it may be obvious that someone is or has a family caregiver, but if it isn’t in the record, it isn’t official, and cannot be taken into account in developing a plan of care – for both parties.
There is an easy fix to this problem; it doesn’t require legislative action, nor great expense; it only requires the will of those who really are interested in making patient and family centered care the norm in America.
The fix is to have a space on all medical intake forms and electronic medical records to capture information on who is or who has a family caregiver. Next time you fill out a medical form – just make a notation that you provide care to your parent, spouse, child, etc. who has a chronic condition or deals with the frailties of old age. One form at a time you can make a difference, change the status quo and gain recognition for the important job of being a family caregiver.