According to a new study published in the issue of the medical journal, CHEST, a voluntary program being spearheaded by Intermountain Healthcare that allows family members of hospitalized patients to participate in their care enhanced healing and reduced readmission rates.

Intermountain's Partners in Healing program provides opportunities for family members to help with basic care for their loved ones, which helps them prepare for taking over care responsibilities when the patient goes home.

The program also allows the patient and family member more control over when they perform the care activities rather than following a schedule when the nurse or patient care tech are available. And it improves communication between the family and the staff.

Investigators found that families not only want to promote healing, but patients benefit from someone who knows their preferences, and the result is, the rate of readmissions is reduced after patients are discharged from the hospital.

Partners in Healing is the first program in the field that shows drafting families as clinical care partners during hospitalization may reduce readmissions. In the study, researchers compared adult heart surgery patients at Intermountain Medical Center whose families participated in the program with those whose relatives did not.

Intermountain researchers looked at 30-day all-cause readmissions, 30-day all-cause mortality, length of stay, and the number of emergency room visits. Many family members who participated also completed a feedback survey.

The 30-day readmission rate was 65% lower for patients whose families participated in Partners in Healing, based on 200 matched pairs of patients. Researchers controlled the results for age, gender, and illness severity.

Participant feedback showed that 92% of the patients said the program enhanced the transition from hospital care to home care and 94% said they had highly recommended the program to other families.

Four themes were identified in a feedback survey: Family members praised the Partners in Healing program and expressed gratitude for being involved with it. Family members acquired relevant caregiving skills.

Family members reported feeling empowered, integrated into the care team, and confident. They said those feelings reduced their anxiety, increased their confidence in caregiving tasks at home, and aided in the patient's healing process. Family members thought the program should be available to all families and during all phases of hospitalization, including in intensive care units.

The various tasks a family member can perform are determined by the patient's needs and the capacity of the family member. The program also boosts confidence and teamwork. It lets family members practice patient care with expert guidance before the patient goes home.

"Offering the Partners in Healing program to the patients and families in all of our Intermountain hospitals is a commitment to providing the best care possible to our patients by involving their loved ones in the healing process," says Tammy Richards, assistant vice president of Patient and Clinical Engagement at Intermountain Healthcare.