Family members play an important role in a patient’s recovery. They’re often the ones who make sure their loved one takes medications, makes necessary lifestyle changes and follows aftercare recommendations. Although family members can provide the support recovering patients need, sometimes they become overly involved in the decision-making process.
When relatives try to control a patient, rather than support him or her, trouble lies ahead. All too often, hospital staff members become caught in the middle. It’s crucial for family members to understand how they can provide a supportive role.
Striking the right balance isn’t always easy, but as a medical professional, you can help educate family members about helpful roles they could take on using the following talking points.
Act as a representative for the patient and share his or her concerns when he or she is too ill to communicate effectively: It doesn’t mean interjecting your own opinion if the patient has expressly stated his or her wishes and is competent to make decisions.
Share information about the patient’s diagnosis and treatment options: Sometimes patients are too sick to concentrate on conversations with medical staff. Family members can help by taking notes and reading any decision guides or information provided.
Discuss the benefits and drawbacks of a treatment with the patient: Family members can help their relatives focus on the issues that really matter when considering a treatment, such as the effectiveness of the various treatments proposed, impact on the patient’s lifestyle, length of the treatment, consequences if a particular treatment is rejected, costs and other considerations.
Alert hospital staff if the patient or family member doesn’t understand the benefits of a proposed treatment: Patients may feel vulnerable and reluctant to raise questions. Family members can help by asking the staff to provide more information needed for the decision-making process.
Support treatment decisions even if a family member doesn’t agree with them: Although it’s important to ensure that the patient understands the consequences of his or her decision, that decision should be respected, even if it conflicts with a family member’s opinion. If a patient bows to pressure from family members and chooses the treatment relatives want, he or she may not be fully invested in the treatment decision and might be less likely to follow aftercare recommendations or follow through with the treatment plan.
Respect the patient’s right to privacy: Many patients want family members to be involved in their care and gladly sign a HIPAA consent form. Others prefer to keep some aspects of their illness private. It’s important for family members to understand that hospital staff can’t release information without permission, no matter how strongly relatives believe that they believe should have access to this information.
Families make incredible sacrifices for the health of their loved ones, often spending long hours at the hospital. Their contributions are significant, and they play an important role in the recovery process. Although they only want to help patients make good decisions, sometimes they become too involved in the decision process. Keeping the focus on support instead of control will ensure that decisions made truly reflect the patient’s wishes.
Being in the hospital can be stressful for both the patient and their families, but taking measures to offer patient comfort solutions such as a topical anesthetic can help patients feel more comfortable.