Hospital patients are often the only carers for their pets.
Tiffany Braley, MD, MS, associate professor of neurology at UM Health, was surprised when a patient she mentored explained why she needed to get home from the hospital as soon as possible: her pets.
After hearing several other patients at home in the hospital express their concerns about their cats, dogs, and other animals, she quickly realized that this was not uncommon. In many cases, these were patients who were the sole carers for their pets.
“Acute stroke patients have told me that they need to go home to their pets when it was in their best medical interest to be admitted or hospitalized,” said Braley. “Through these interactions, it became clear to me that we need to learn more about the scale of this problem and find better ways to address it.”
Braley, who also loves animals, then reached out to other animal-loving colleagues in neurology, social work, nursing, and the Office of Patient Experience to investigate this question.
Step One: Learn about the pet owner’s experience from Michigan Medicine’s in-house patient advisors.
Working with the Office of Patient Experience, Braley and colleagues sent a survey to patient and family counselors who had previously offered to share their experiences. The purpose of the survey was to understand how the need to care for animals at home could affect how hospital patients follow their doctors’ recommendations.
The researchers published their results in the Journal of Patient Experience.
More than half of the 113 people who participated in the survey (63%) said they encountered difficulty caring for pets during their own hospitalization and / or a loved one.
Almost a third said the need for pet care influenced their decision, someone they knew, or both, whether they should stay in the hospital, if the medical team recommended it.
And 16% of respondents said they knew someone who left the hospital against medical advice to look after their pets.
“These patients are already stressed; How do you cure or accept hospitalization for treatment when you are also concerned about the welfare of your beloved pets? ”Said lead author Carri Polick, RN, PhD student at UM School of Nursing. “It can be difficult when a patient doesn’t have a lot of social contacts or family members.”
Although social work is typically used to help patients make care plans for their pets, they may not be notified until a few days after they are hospitalized, usually when the situation is urgent, and are usually forced to contact the social circle to turn to the patient for help. Unfortunately, some patients do not have available social support and there are limitations on the support available.
“We see an increasing need for formalized services to identify patients early in their course who need help with pet care and the need to provide better resources before a crisis hits and on their care or the welfare of their pets said Braley, senior writer and lead researcher.
The study team noted that while this study was an important first step, the survey was small and included mostly women and white respondents who live in nearby counties Washtenaw, Wayne, and Oakland, suggesting a low rating for the problem as a whole could. To learn more about the overall scope and impact of animal care needs in a larger, more diverse group, the team is now studying people currently in the hospital or emergency room at Michigan Medicine to see how animal care needs are affecting hospital outcomes .
They have also started speaking to potential local partners, including the Michigan Humane Society, to consider what future foster care collaboration might look like.
“This study is further evidence that pets are really part of the family and an important part of how and why we make decisions,” said Matt Pepper, company president and CEO. “Here at Michigan Humane, our work has taught us that people are sacrificing their own health and safety for that of their pets. This study underscores the need for communities to support families, including the pet. “
Braley said a pilot program could begin by focusing on a specific unit or group of patients first – perhaps people in need of inpatient rehabilitation or the parents of a hospitalized child who have an animal at home. That way, the team was able to start helping people and their pets while they continue to educate themselves about needs.
“Given the importance of pets to human health, follow-up studies are needed to investigate how pet ownership affects patient health decisions and outcomes,” said Braley. “If there is a link between pet ownership and medical treatment compliance, I hope that early assessment of pet care needs and the implementation of patient-centered approaches to meeting those needs will become the standard of care for hospital patients.”
Other authors are Jennifer W. Applebaum, MS, Caitlin Hanna, Darnysus Jackson, II, MS, Sophia Tsaras-Schumacher, LMSW, Rachel Hawkins, LMSW, Alan Conceicao, Louise M. O’Brien, Ph.D., MS and Ronald D. Chervin, MD, MS
quoted paper: “The Impact of Pet Care Needs on Medical Decision-Making in Hospitalized Patients: A Cross-Sectional Analysis of the Patient Experience,” Journal of Patient Experience. DOI: 10.1177 / 23743735211046089.