Challenges and approaches to involving family caregivers in primary care

Catherine Riffin, Jennifer L. Wolff, John Butterworth, Ronald D. Adelman, Karl A. Pillemer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Older adults are commonly accompanied to routine medical visits. This study identifies challenges and explores approaches to managing patient-family interactions in primary care. Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with primary care clinicians and staff (N = 30) as well as older adult patients and family caregivers (N = 40). Interviews were analyzed using content analysis. Results: Three major challenges to patient-family interactions were identified: navigating patient autonomy and family motivation to participate; adjudicating patient-family disagreements; and minimizing obtrusive behaviors by caregivers. Three approaches to managing patient-family interactions were identified. Collaborating involved non-judgmental listening, consensus-building, and validation of different perspectives. Dividing involved separating the patient and family member to elicit confidential information from one member of the dyad. Focusing involved re-directing the conversation to either the patient or family member while minimizing input from the other. Approaches varied by patients’ cognitive status and overall health condition. In general, patients and caregivers expressed the most positive attitudes toward collaborating and patient-directed focusing approaches. Conclusion: Primary care clinicians use varied approaches to managing their interactions with patient-family dyads. Patients and caregivers generally prefer those approaches that involve collaborative rather than individual discussions. Practice implications: Findings suggest the potential for the development of communication-focused interventions to promote positive clinician-patient-family interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1644-1651
Number of pages8
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2021


  • Family caregiver
  • Patient-caregiver-provider interactions
  • Physician office
  • Primary health care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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