I was admitted to the hospital for a total of six times, last year alone. That is an average of one admission for every couple of months. The admissions usually lasted a minimum of three days, and at one point lasted a maximum of eight days. Thankfully, I did not have to worry about those that I had to leave behind when the need for those admissions arises. My strong support system, in the form of a supportive husband and a family, allowed me to focus on recovery and improved my health outcome.
Every person has people around them who become their support system. The need for it undeniably increases when one is challenged with illnesses. A patient’s support system may consist of family members, friends, members of formal support groups, counsellors or therapists. They may be clearly visible to observers and play very active roles during patient encounters or remain hidden in patients’ personal lives exerting more subtle influence on patient care and health outcomes.
Regardless of the visibility of patients’ support system and the degree of influence it has on the patients, it is important for everyone (including patients) to recognise the reasons why it is absolutely critical for patients to have strong support systems. Only through a thorough understanding and appreciation of the role of the support systems that impactful change can be made towards improving patient experience as they navigate the complex healthcare system.
Advice for patients
It is important to identify people whom you could rely on for support. Never underestimate the power of their support to you. A strong support system may help you overcome the difficult phases of your life as a patient. A simple act of empathic listening from those whom you consider part of your support system can indeed be therapeutic. So, when situations get tough, draw upon their help. Believe me, there are many people who are willing to lend a helping hand, if only you’d ask.
Suggestions for healthcare professionals
Recognising patients’ support system and the significant role it plays is an important first step to understanding what goes behind every patient experience. It is crucial to acknowledge the assistance that support systems provide for patients, and how it may affect their journey. So ask them about it each time you take their history. And please offer help to those who seem to lack a strong support system. Or at least point them in the right direction, so they can seek help when they need it.
Recommendations for healthcare administrators
Although most healthcare facilities would have had patients’ and family rights and responsibility charter clearly spelt out in its written policy, which means they acknowledge the importance of patients’ support system, many family members are still unaware of its existence. This may negatively affect the way the family members provide support to the patients. Incorporation of family rights and responsibility education in healthcare processes is just as vital as having it written in the policy.
Strong support systems are able to help patients get through difficult phases of their lives and must not be disregarded. It helps improve their healthcare outcomes and should be viewed as an important factor in the holistic provision of patient care. Patients, healthcare professionals and healthcare administrators have the responsibility to ensure that the support system is incorporated into patient care and leveraged on, in order to improve patient experience as a whole.