In many countries, including the Netherlands, family members are having to step in to care for loved ones on a larger scale than ever before as a result of an increasingly ageing population. People in need of care are living at home for longer and there is a shortage of professional care. Caring for a loved one can put serious pressure on the way that a family functions, and family members are at risk of suffering structural stress. Susanne Broekema’s thesis examines the effect of using family meetings as an instrument in the home care sector. She tried to find out whether this would help families to function better and prevent overload, without the need for more professional care.
Family meetings result in joint plan
A family meeting is a planned meeting between a nurse, a patient, and the family or other people who are close to the patient. The meeting allows the nurse and the family to get to know each other, share their experiences, expectations, beliefs, concerns, and wishes regarding the situation, and formulate a joint question. Everyone at the meeting has a chance to share their perspective. The nurse structures the meeting, encourages open communication, and acknowledges the family's difficult experiences and emotions, as well as their strong points. All of those present work towards formulating a joint action plan.
Taking the pressure off informal carers
Broekema’s research shows that after several days of training, nurses were capable of conducting these family meetings. During the interviews, families reported that after having a family meeting they felt more in control of the situation and stated that their interpersonal contact had improved. In the longer term, family members said that they felt less overloaded and that the care they were giving was more in line with both their abilities and the wishes of the patient.
Lower demand for professional home care
A comparison between families that had taken part in two family meetings and families that had only received regular home care again revealed that family meetings had a positive effect on the way that the family functioned and the level of stress they experienced. In addition, these families required less professional home care than average.
Advice for setting up family meetings
According to Susanne Broekema, family meetings lead to a care strategy that is much better suited to the wishes and abilities of all involved: patient, family, and professional care providers. She has a few pieces of advice for organizations that are considering introducing family meetings. ‘Make sure that all of the relevant parties are involved in setting up the family meetings and offer the nurses training before they embark on these meetings. Managers in the home care sector need to realize that although family meetings may seem to cause extra work, they actually help to reduce the workload in the long term. Family meetings should also be given a permanent slot in day-to-day practice.’
Susanne Broekema (Groningen, 1989) studied psychology at the University of Groningen. She conducted her research at the UMCG’s SHARE research institute, under the supervision of Prof. Petrie Roodbol. Her thesis is entitled: ‘Familiegesprekken in de thuiszorg. Ondersteunen van familie-functioneren en voorkomen van overbelasting van mantelzorgers in langdurige zorgsituaties’. (Family Nursing Conversations in Home Health Care: supporting family functioning and preventing caregiver burden in long-term care situations.) She works as a lecturer in Social Work at Hanze UAS Groningen.