Caring for Caregivers Has Never Been as Important

September 16, 2020 Tim McDonald, MD, JD, Chief Patient Safety & Risk Officer of RLDatix

Until recently, the word “caregiver” was typically used to describe someone who was helping to provide care and healing to a friend or family member with a certain disease or condition, such as Alzheimer’s, cancer, children with diabetes or a member of the senior population. Support for them is plentiful, as there are hundreds of organizations and websites with resources dedicated to helping caregivers deliver care to their families and loved ones.

Yet the COVID-19 pandemic has shed new light on another type of “caregiver”―the frontline workers at hospitals and emergency centers. There are now many reports of these critical technicians, nurses and doctors who—because of their work—contracted the disease and, sadly, more than 900 have died as a result.

Before COVID-19, the healthcare industry was beginning to see advances in caring for these caregivers, especially in terms of improving patient safety and mitigating risks. Why? Because behind every safety incident is a care team that truly cares about the patient and the care they deliver. Just like the daughter caring for her elderly mother wants the best outcomes possible, care teams want the best results for their patients. And just like the daughter who suffers when her mother suffers, care teams suffer when their patients suffer as well.

What the healthcare industry needs now are the resources and best practices that change the thinking about caring for caregivers from old structures and cultures of asking for help viewed as a sign of weakness (or the motto of  “just tough it out”) to new philosophies of open and honest support. This will have long lasting consequences for the caregiver, and directly impact those being cared for.

A Unique Approach to Caring for the Caregivers

We have been living in a healthcare delivery world that―after an incident involving patient safety has occurred―has enlisted each person within the organization into a system-wide “wall of silence.” Because of the fears that saying or admitting the wrong thing can open the hospital or health system to expensive litigation, care team members are often instructed to stay silent afterward—and let the lawyers take it from there. This legal-considerations-first―“deny and defend”―approach leads to mistrust in the system which can quite often give way to feelings of animosity toward the institution, which is harmful to the culture and can affect one’s daily work.

While it may have its reasons, the wall of silence inhibits learning and the adoption of best practices that could be used to prevent the incident from happening again to another patient. Not to mention personal healing for the caregiver. What hospitals and health systems need is a paradigm shift, proactively offering the affected care team members emotional first aid and the opportunity to live and learn through the event for better care delivery down the road.

What hospitals and health systems need is a paradigm shift, proactively offering the affected care team members emotional first aid and the opportunity to live and learn through the event for better care delivery down the road.

One proven way to achieve these objectives is through the adoption of the Communication and Optimal Resolution (CANDOR) toolkit. It has the potential to change the culture at every hospital and health system, and help them embrace and care for caregivers, so they can then improve patient safety initiatives and mitigate risks, moving us closer to zero harm.

CANDOR embraces the concepts of open, honest and empathetic communications with each other inside the healthcare institution as well as to the patients and their family members. By being transparent, we build trust back into provider-patient relationships. We also build trust back into the institution’s culture. Open, honest and clear communication also creates deeper relationships with patients and their family members, who are quite often severely impacted—emotionally, mentally and financially—after a patient safety event has occurred.

The CANDOR approach also incorporates philosophies of care and compassion for frontline workers and care teams that support them in their daily work and provide them with the tools and resources that foster communication. This approach creates cultures of understanding and empathy because care team members understand that the hospital or health system cares for them and their work, and that they stand behind them. When a patient safety incident does occur, the CANDOR toolkit provides for emotional first aid, especially when that incident is unexpected and/or traumatic.

Caring for the Caregiver Also Helps the Hospital and Health System

Risk and patient safety have traditionally been managed by different departments within the health delivery organization. CANDOR can unify these two elements by bringing them together to communicate with patients, families and caregivers in a compassionate way while supporting the financial integrity of healthcare institutions.

This approach positively impacts the health systems’ ROI through measurable reduction in litigation costs and punitive fines. It also helps the affected patient and family member effectively find solace in the resolutions. Additionally, those resolutions can be used for proactive safety in the future.

Better communications can help hospitals and health systems protect their hard-earned ratings as well as generate better and more frequent word-of-mouth endorsements for doctors and facilities from patients and family members who have received quality healthcare. The CANDOR toolkit can go a long way in helping hospitals live up to their accreditations while the learnings and best practices from the toolkit can be a means for managing honest reputations more effectively.

Every patient has their own individual needs and circumstances. Caregivers for those needs come in many forms and personas—doctor, nurse, technician, receptionist, mother, father, daughter, son, or friend. Each of these roles needs to be given the correct resources to support outstanding care as well as their own physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.

This has become abundantly clear during the current pandemic because it has taken everyone’s help and determination to get us through it, including the frontline workers at hospitals and emergency departments. We’re still learning to mitigate risks associated with COVID-19, but there’s one very important takeaway: Caring for the caregiver has never been more important, and this will lead to better outcomes for patient safety and risk mitigation well into the future.

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