November is National Family Caregivers Month. This year's theme is "Family Caregivers — Now More Than Ever!"
The number of family caregivers is growing each year, and the role they play is vital to our country. According to the Caregiver Action Network, caregiveraction.org, "Family caregivers are the backbone of the nation's long-term care system. Family caregivers provide $450 billion worth of unpaid care each year. That's more than total Medicaid funding, and twice as much as homecare and nursing home services combined."
Many of you may be among the 90 million family caregivers in the United States today, up 9 percent since 2010. Maybe you are receiving care from a family member because of chronic disease, disability, old age issues or the wounds and illnesses resulting from service as a veteran.
Today, men are just as likely to be caregivers as women [37 percent of men and 40 percent of women]. It is hard to think of younger people between the ages of 18 and 29 as caregivers but CAN states that 36 percent of younger Americans, including 1 million of them taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer's, are family caregivers.
Regardless of age, family caregivers are in different stages of caregiving — some are brand new to the role; some have been caregivers for years; others are part of long-distance care teams; and still others are juggling work and caregiving. It doesn't matter which of these categories you fall into, you should realize that you need resources to manage your challenges as well as peer support.
Don't try to do it all on your own. Your caregiving job is a difficult one. You may be managing multiple medications, operating technical, medical equipment and performing highly skilled nursing duties. Take time for yourself and, more importantly, accept the offer of friends and family to help give you some respite from continual caregiving.
While on the subject of caregiving, I recently became aware of accountable care organizations, also known as collaborative care groups, under the Medicare Shared Savings Program, which I believe may go a long way toward improving the health of seniors, ultimately having a positive affect on their long-term care.
I received a letter from Southern Maryland Collaborative Care LLC explaining to me that my primary care doctor had joined the group, with the goal of providing comprehensive care to the patient and of decreasing health care costs. I received a follow on phone call from a nurse assigned to help me on a regular basis with any health concerns or any long-term health issues I might have, such as the management of diabetes, weight loss, blood pressure management or cholesterol control. I didn't have any issue needing immediate attention, but I can contact her for help at any time.
As of January 2013, seven local ACOs were named by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to serve areas within Maryland; Washington, D.C.; or Virginia: AAMC Collaborative Care Network; Bon Secours Good Helpcare LLC; Lower Shore ACO LLC; Maryland Collaborative Care LLC; Northern Maryland Collaborative Care LLC; Southern Maryland Collaborative Care LLC and Virginia Collaborative Care LLC.
Providers/doctors can opt in to such a group and the patient has the same choice, as well as the ability to seek treatment from any provider they choose. Such a group is responsible for improving care for Medicare beneficiaries. ACOs that succeed in providing high quality care, while reducing the costs of care, may share in the savings to Medicare. According to CMS, cms.gov, the quality of care provided by the doctors in the ACO is "measured by performance on 33 measures related to care coordination and patient safety, use of appropriate preventative health services, improved care for at-risk populations, and the patient experience of care."
The collaborative-care group ensures coordination across the patient's continuum of care, office visits, hospital stays, etc. All doctors in the group share the patient's information so that medical errors can be reduced, especially when it come to prescribing medication. A friend of mine had been prescribed two different blood thinners by two different doctors and ended up in the hospital with internal bleeding. This type of medical error should not happen if the patient's doctors are sharing information and are all working toward improved care for the patient.
If your health issues currently require multiple doctors, you have probably been frustrated by disconnected care, loss of medical files, duplicated medical procedures, and having to fill out medical information forms over and over again for different doctors. ACOs can alleviate these patient burdens while reducing overall medical costs and concentrating of preventative medicine to keep the patient healthy.
Who wouldn't want to be free of these medical headaches, receive improved quality health care, avoid unnecessary emergency room visits and, in the long run, reduce the cost of health care?