Commentary

Caregiver Content Is A Win-Win-Win

The caregiver has become a primary target audience for healthcare marketers, especially in the oncology and rare disease spaces. Often clients ask whether the content we provide to patients is sufficient for caregivers, too. Our answer is – not always. As we study attitudinal variations in patients, we must also determine caregiver types and how to support them during this challenging journey. 

We’ve discovered two main types of caregivers whose needs marketers must understand in crafting their communications: the “reluctant” and the “willing.” One looks at giving care as an obligation fulfilled from duty, the other approaches caring with love. Let’s be honest, most people are thrust into caregiving with life partners or ill parents; others give care to their children caught in the grip of a disease. 

Few embrace the role of caregiver easily; many times the role is taken on reluctantly. Although at times almost every caregiver knows exhaustion, anger and resentment, reluctant caregivers probably deserve the most credit because they persevere despite feelings of guilt and even resentment. For the “willing” – caregiving can be a great experience, full of satisfaction. For the “reluctant,” the fulfillment may come in knowing that they haven’t turned their back on a loved one.

Regardless of the caregiver type, the role is complex and communications support is essential. Many caregivers are so incredibly focused on the patient, they ignore their own needs. At the end of the day, a supported caregiver can give optimal care. Marketers who wish to engage caregivers as allies in the struggle to overcome and maintain a dignified quality of life need to put themselves in the caregiver’s place. Here are the top three tips from Helpguide.org for caregivers, which provide insights into crafting communications that will engage this key audience:

1. Accepting feelings

Caregiving can trigger a host of difficult emotions, including anger, fear, resentment, guilt, helplessness, and grief. It's important to acknowledge and accept feelings, both good and bad. Feelings of doubts and misgivings don't mean that a caregiver doesn’t love their family member—they are simply human.

2. There are no caregiver superheros

Even the primary family caregiver can’t do everything on their own, especially if caregiving from a distance (more than an hour’s drive). Help from friends, siblings, and other family members, as well as health professionals is critical. Listing all the caregiving tasks required, and being as specific as possible is the first step, then caregivers can determine which activities they are able to meet. The remaining tasks on the list are ones that others can pitch in and help with. 

3. Attend to your own needs

Caregivers must consider emotional, social/recreational, and physical needs, including taking time to relax, perhaps keeping a journal, and monitoring for signs of depression or anxiety. Additionally, visiting or being social with others is super important. Isolation can lead to depression, and to ensure a positive outlook, caregivers must do things they enjoy and stay social. Laughter is key when there is stress and pain, and finding community is essential –connections in a religions group, social club or civic organization – because the broader a support network, the better. Last but not least, escorting a patient to and from the doctor constantly may result in caregivers ignoring their own health. They must keep up with their own plan, staying as strong and healthy as possible.

One of the most important aspects of giving care is listening. Communication in caregiving is very important, and we have heard that patients often do not feel “heard.” Between the logistics, driving, doctors visits and more, sometimes communication is lost because the caregiver feels that they are doing the job – what more could be needed? In fact, we know that patients want to hold on to their core values such as family, control, environment, religion, and sometimes when the communication breaks down between caregiver and patient, there may be anger and resentment on the patient’s part, too.

Here are the top three communication tips from Family Caregivers Online:

  1. Really listen to what the patient is saying. Sometimes it is better to remain silent while thinking about what is being discussed or how to respond.

  2. Ask questions and find out what is really going on. Are you assuming some things about what the other person is saying because you think you know everything that is going on?

  3. Use body language to improve communication. For example, look the person in the eye. Lean into the person or put a hand on their arm or shoulder.

Whether reluctant or willing, establishing a relationship with caregivers is key. Chances are family caregivers will end up taking care of more than one family member. As marketers, being there to support them with relevant tools, content, resources and access is a win-win-win…for patients, caregivers, and brands. My recommendations are:

  1. Consider tailoring content for caregivers – give them something special and distinct from what patients are receiving

  2. Talk to caregivers in your category, they will be a wealth of information and insights to better educate not only them, but patients too

  3. Embrace the idea that not all caregivers are alike attitudinally. Plan for this and consider the variations when creating programs and tools.
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