Doctor greets patient and caregiver to improve patient outcomes via caregiver engagement

How to Engage Caregivers


Get everyone on the same page quickly by visually explaining diagnoses

Whether they are supporting an aging parent, child, or spouse, family caregivers are often the unsung heros of patient care. They are essential across the care continuum, especially in the decision-making process. Because of their close relationship with the patient, caregivers have the potential to improve patient outcomes. Without a strong relationship, however, caregivers can be a missed opportunity to improve care — or worse, a barrier in the way of your recommendations. How can you better engage caregivers?

Recognize how caregivers influence care

Family caregivers are often responsible for coordinating care for the patient and will frequently accompany them into the exam room. During the examination, the caregiver advocates for the patient, helping to bridge any communication gaps and even translating between the patient and doctor. Caregivers are often the ones receiving care instructions and who will be responsible for remembering and carrying out these instructions.

Without caregivers, many patients would not be able to access care, period.

Because caregivers are so involved in the patient visit, they are a key part of shared decision-making. Patients will often look to a caregiver for their opinion on care decisions. Significant others can provide perspective on a patient’s values, which becomes more relevant for people who do not have the capacity to make a decision on their own. If there are financial considerations for elective options, patients will likely consult a caregiver or significant other and decide as a team whether they can afford one treatment over another.

Caregivers can be the catalyst for treatment adherence. If a patient is unable to reliably take their medication or complete other prescribed tasks when they return home, it is up to the caregiver to fulfill these needs in the interest of the patient’s health. In a systematic review of 4,361 patients, incorporating caregivers into the discharge process reduced hospital readmissions by 25%, demonstrating the benefits of engaging caregivers (and the costs of not doing so).

Of course, the presence of a caregiver can provide added challenges to the visit as well. In the past, we’ve written about difficult caregivers. Family members may be controlling, or question the motives and credibility of the doctor, making it difficult to provide care effectively. Additionally, if the caregiver’s values contrast with those of the patient’s, care decisions can become even more complicated.

Fortunately, both you and the caregivers want what is best for the patient. With this common goal in mind, you can enlist a few simple strategies to engage caregivers with productive conversations that ultimately improve patient care.

Understand the relationship

It’s a tricky balance addressing both the patient and caregiver during the appointment. By simply asking some questions about the presence of the caregiver, you may be able to get a better idea of how to communicate most effectively. When a patient brings a caregiver to their appointment, first acknowledge his or her presence. A genuine smile with eye contact and a handshake can go a long way in establishing trust. Then, get an understanding of the nature of the relationship. Is the caregiver simply providing moral support, or will he or she be responsible for making treatment decisions or carrying out care instructions? This information will help guide your conversation.

Get on the same page

You can’t assume that the caregiver or even the patient has an understanding of their condition and medical history. It’s worth spending a few moments to recap and get everyone on the same page.

Our latest feature was inspired with caregivers and patients in mind for this very reason. We added the patient’s simulated vision, called Point-of-Views (POVs), to our interactive anatomy tool, Exam Mode. Exam Mode lets you orient patients and caregivers to the anatomy, and show what’s happening inside the body. When you demonstrate an eye condition in the tool, such as floaters, the option to show a POV appears in the play bar. This launches a picture-in-picture of the anatomy and simulated vision, helping relate what patients are seeing to what’s happening inside their eye.

Show caregivers what is happening inside the eye and its impact on vision

Our latest feature lets you simultaneously show anatomy and a vision simulation to explain eye conditions to both patients and caregivers.


A picture’s worth a thousand words: when you can show what the patient is experiencing and demonstrate what the world looks like to them, you can build the caregiver’s empathy. The POV feature even takes it one step further: it shows how vision would progress if the condition goes untreated. This is highly motivating for patients and caregivers to adhere to recommended treatment plans and attend regular checkups. By showing powerful visuals that everyone can understand, patients and caregivers get to the “aha” moment faster. Once everyone has a shared understanding of the problem, they are better positioned to discuss solutions.

Collaborate on the care plan

Understanding of the condition primes caregivers to be able to collaborate with the patient and care team on the treatment plan. Walk everyone through the patient’s options or instructions and consider using the teach-back method or listening for the questions they ask. These can reveal how much the patient and caregiver comprehend, and highlight any areas of confusion.

Providing decision aids and materials that the caregivers can reference post-visit are essential for establishing continued care. By making these materials accessible digitally, you ensure that the caregivers will be able to access them well beyond the visit.

Ask if you are uncertain

There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy for engaging caregivers, since roles will vary from patient to patient. By listening closely to a caregiver’s questions and concerns, you can understand their needs and tailor your explanations accordingly. Remember to give caregivers accessible information, instructions, and decision tools so that they are able to provide the best care and guidance for patients. By being a resource that recognizes and involves caregivers, you establish trust and build a stronger relationship with both patients and their families, resulting in better care.

To learn more about how patient education materials can impact patient’s perceived quality of care, download our free paper today.

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