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The Provider–Family Caregiver Relationship: Growth Opportunity

Primary Care Providers' Experiences With Family Caregivers

Most primary health care providers recognize the value of family caregivers and know that working with them is the best way to ensure quality outcomes for their patients. Yet physicians find that establishing communication with family caregivers can be challenging, with time to connect and other logistical issues getting in the way, a new AARP survey reveals. Most conversations happen in-person or over the phone in 15 minutes or less, while digital communication (online portals, email, etc.) is less common.

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Overall, though, the survey reveals signals of potential growth and opportunity regarding the provider–family caregiver relationship. Most physicians (65%) and nurse practitioners/physician assistants (76%) expect to be working significantly or somewhat more with caregivers in the future. Furthermore, providers clearly understand the caregiving role’s importance. Nearly all (97%) providers say caregivers play an important role in patient care. An overwhelming percentage of providers (86%) express a strong interest in working with family caregivers, and 75% are extremely or very confident in their ability to do so.

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Among the various health care provider roles, physicians are the most likely to speak with caregivers (84%), AARP’s research discovered, followed by nurses (74%), nurse practitioners (44%), and receptionists (44%).

Any disconnect between the desire for caregiver collaboration and action, meanwhile, can come down to logistics, suggesting an opportunity for improvement via a streamlining of communication. About half of providers surveyed (54%) say a patient having multiple caregivers was a barrier, 44% are not aware who the caregiver is, 44% say there is fluctuation in caregiver involvement, and 39% felt interacting with caregivers was too time consuming, the AARP survey shows. Among those who felt communication was difficult (20%), most said the inability to reach the caregiver was the primary issue. 

When providers and caregivers connect for conversations, those discussions often center on managing medications and arranging transportation and meal services. But encouragingly, conversations often go deeper. Two-thirds of respondents say they also discuss emotional aspects of the caregiver role — a well-documented issue among caregivers. To encourage more collaboration, survey respondents suggest offering longer appointments and reimbursing providers for time spent with caregivers.

Providers learn about community resources on caregiving most often from colleagues (67%), on the internet (47%), through in-office materials (45%), and at conferences (43%). Most physicians (88%) acknowledge seeing better outcomes and higher caregiver satisfaction (73%) when they share information with families. Still, a gap remains between providers being aware of resources and getting the word out about them to patients, AARP discovered. When they do refer family caregivers, they most often direct them to disease organizations’ websites, such as the Alzheimer's Association and the American Diabetes Association.

The AARP survey exploring health care provider perceptions and relationships with family caregivers involved the SurveyHealthcarePanel of 267 physicians and 133 nurse practitioners and/or physician assistants. The respondents spent at least 70% of their time in clinical practice and at least 25% of their patients were age 50 and older. Results of the online survey, which took place in April 2018, have a confidence interval of +/-5%.

For more information, please contact Laura Skufca at Please direct media inquiries to AARP’s Media Relations Office at