By Lacie Blankenship
For over 2 years, we have lived in a society of Zoom birthdays, FaceTime hellos to new babies, and countless other measures designed to increase the physical space between us. This “distanced” approach extends to healthcare facilities as well; pandemic-related protocols have limited potential COVID-19 transmission by eliminating the physical presence of non-essential workers and guests.
A new study finds that these “non-essential” people may be more important than previously thought.
We’re all in this Together: How COVID-19 Revealed the Co-Construction of Mindful Organising and Organisational Reliability, by Tim Vogus, Leadership Development Program Faculty Director, Brownlee O. Currey, Jr., Professor of Management, and Deputy Director of the Frist Center for Autism and Innovation, details the crucial role that non-essential care providers or secondary care providers (family, friends, social workers, chaplains, etc.) play in healthcare.
“COVID-19 shed light on an unexpected weakness in the way that we approach and study healthcare,” says Vogus. “We too narrowly focus on just physicians and nurses, and this study shows the reality of other critically important actors in safe healthcare.”
Co-authored by Amy Wilson, Kelly Randall, and Mary Sitterding of Ascension Health, this study looks at hospital data patterns that show upticks in patient harm and a decrease in safety culture throughout the pandemic, with more pronounced findings at hospitals that disallowed patient visitations. Hospitals that deployed technology to support virtual visits were not immune to the challenges either.
The issue with removing these “non-essential” care providers from the equation, the authors explain, boils down to the various roles they play as members of the care team. Family members, for instance, provide details and information that aid in initial assessments, advocate for safe care practices (like handwashing, PPE, etc.), assist with hospital routines like handovers, and encourage and motivate patients to stick with care plans. “Family and caregiver presence cannot be fully replaced through virtual family presence,” the authors explain.
This research has implications for healthcare providers across the world. The inclusion and presence of “non-essential” care providers and the unique information and perspective they provide is essential for addressing potential patient harm. Additionally, the inclusion of these parties is not enough; paying attention to these parties and listening to their comments and concerns could fill gaps in healthcare practices.
“This study exposes the full set of voices that contribute to a safe healthcare system, including patients’ extended networks that know the patient in a context other than healthcare,” says Vogus. “Using techniques like family-centered rounding, where the physician team does rounds on patients with friends and family present (virtually or physically), is a way to proactively include these other voices.”
Likewise, this research translates to patients and their friends/family too. Vogus advises patients and their support systems to embrace advocacy by “not being afraid to ask questions even if they seem trivial” and “not being afraid to disclose information you know based on your unique relationship to the patient.”
“To me, the special concept of this study is bringing the overlooked voice of family and caregivers back into care delivery and showing that it should be valued, celebrated, and cultivated,” says Vogus. “These ‘non-essential’ care providers have valuable voices, and there is power in creating a richer dialog between those delivering care and the patients and their extended networks.”