One truth that we don't acknowledge often enough is that the healthcare system often depends on caregivers to coordinate care. True, we have other members of the care team who do care coordination also, and we have tools that help us, but in many situations, it is the patient's caregiver that is doing the bulk of the caregiving.
Healthcare depends on caregivers remembering care history, advocating for providers to collaborate, and reminding providers of key conditions when that information gets lost in the shuffle. This becomes exponentially more true, the more chronic, complex, or multidisciplinary a patient’s situation is.
The truth, of course, is that this isn’t always possible or feasible. Some patients don’t have an advocate or caregiver that is able to play this coordinating role. We do have team members like social workers and patient advocates, but sometimes the coordination of the care itself falls between the cracks.
I realized recently that there is an extreme case in which patients don't have a solid medical history and don't have a dependable caregiver able to coordinate care on their behalf. The situation is the medical care provided to the migrant children separated at the US border. It's interesting because it highlights the dangers inherent in the medical system for someone who might not have the same social supports and networks as many patients do.
A recent article in the New York Times looked at the situation in New York City, in which providers at public hospitals are seeing children who were detained at the border and separated from their parents. Brought in by foster parents, “The children who come in with medical issues such as asthma are without adult family members who can provide medical history.” Further, therapists are endeavoring to provide emotional care for the children, along with the fact that they’re in the midst of an ongoing traumatic experience.
It's an obviously challenging situation and both foster families and healthcare providers are scrambling to help. But the broad strokes of the care don't different significantly from anyone without family to help, or caregivers to coordinate. These situations expose the cracks and weaknesses that affect all patients.
The truth is that to truly provide excellent care to all patients, we as healthcare providers need to be able to do care coordination and healthcare collaboration without the support of caregivers and family. We must identify and develop the tools we need to make this possible -- to allow us to communicate across the medical team, access key medical history, and consult with other providers efficiently and appropriately. The stakes are simply too high not to.