Developing a partnership with the family

When family members assume the role of caregivers, they become part of the health care team. It is important for health care professionals to legitimize the family caregiver’s participation as a team member. Some family caregivers are intimidated by health professionals and need reassurance that the way in which they manage the patient’s care and solve problems are approved of by the professional members of the health care team. To achieve the goal of self-efficacy for families, support and encouragement from health professionals is essential. In some instances, health care professionals and family caregivers must change their expectations of one another. Many family caregivers expect health professionals to solve problems for them, and some health professionals believe that they should be the primary problem solvers for the family. When this type of relationship occurs, family members may wait to be told what to do while health professionals deliver the message that they should be called only when problems occur. This traditional authoritarian approach encourages dependence and provides little incentive for patients or families to develop effective problem solving skills.

Health care professionals must learn to see the family caregiver as a true partner in providing care and to see themselves as health educators whose role is to teach families how to solve problems rather than as the „experts“ who solve problems for them. Developing this type of partnership will ultimately require changes in the way medical professionals are educated. The American Medical Association has recommended that medical education at both the graduate and undergraduate levels help physicians develop skills to assess and manage caregiver burden, and that research be supported on how best to educate and support family caregivers. The American Nurses Association has recommended programs to improve family coping in its agenda for health care reform.