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ACP Reminds Public about the Importance of Family Caregivers

November is National Family Caregivers Month

Philadelphia, October 25, 2010 – In support of National Family Caregivers Month in November, the American College of Physicians (ACP) is reminding the public about the importance and complexity of the patient-physician-caregiver relationship. More than 65 million family caregivers play a major role in maximizing the health and quality of life of individuals with acute and chronic illnesses.

“Family caregivers make a valuable contribution to patient care,” said J. Fred Ralston Jr., MD, FACP, president, ACP. “A proper patient-physician-caregiver relationship will contribute to a positive care giving experience and may decrease rates of patient hospitalization and institutionalization.”

In January 2010, ACP issued “Family Caregivers, Patients and Physicians: Ethical Guidance to Optimize Relationships,” a position paper[PDF] to guide ethical relationships among patients, physicians, and caregivers.

In the paper, ACP defines caregivers as relatives, partners, friends, and neighbors of patients who assist with activities of daily living and complex health care needs. It outlines four primary principles for physicians, who may face ethical challenges collaborating with patients and caregivers while preserving the primacy of the patient-physician relationship:

  • Respect for the patient’s dignity, rights, and values should guide all patient-physician- caregiver interactions.

  • Effective communication and physician accessibility are fundamental to supporting the patient and family caregiver.

  • The physician should recognize the value of family caregivers as a source of continuity regarding the patient’s medical and psychosocial history and facilitate the intellectual and emotional transition to the end stage of serious chronic illness.

  • When the caregiver is a health care professional, the physician should draw appropriate boundaries to ensure that the caregiver is not expected to function in a professional capacity in relation to the patient and that the caregiver receives appropriate support, referrals, and services.

Although hospice and palliative care address the impact of illness on both patients and families, the authors write in the paper, historically the patient-physician relationship has focused on the patient and his or her rights and interests with less attention to the patient’s experience within the context of his or her family and social relationships. Contemporary bioethics with its emphasis on patient autonomy and confidentiality has supported this model but is beginning to recognize the need for a family-centered approach.

ACP also encourages all adults with decision-making capacity to make advance health care plans by documenting their health care wishes in a living will, and for providers and facilities to respect those decisions.

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About the American College of Physicians
The American College of Physicians is the largest medical specialty organization and the second-largest physician group in the United States. ACP members include 130,000 internal medicine physicians (internists), related subspecialists, and medical students. Internists specialize in the prevention, detection, and treatment of illness in adults. Follow ACP on Twitter and Facebook.

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