Objectives: We identify recent models for programmes aiming to increase effective family support for chronic illness management and self-care among adult patients without significant physical or cognitive disabilities. We then summarize evidence regarding the efficacy for each model identified.
Methods: Structured review of studies published in medical and psychology databases from 1990 to the present, reference review, general Web searches and conversations with family intervention experts. Review was limited to studies on conditions that require ongoing self-management, such as diabetes, chronic heart disease and rheumatologic disease.
Results: Programmes with three separate foci were identified: (1) Programmes that guide family members in setting goals for supporting patient self-care behaviours have led to improved implementation of family support roles, but have mixed success improving patient outcomes. (2) Programmes that train family in supportive communication techniques, such as prompting patient coping techniques or use of autonomy supportive statements, have successfully improved patient symptom management and health behaviours. (3) Programmes that give families tools and infrastructure to assist in monitoring clinical symptoms and medications are being conducted, with no evidence to date on their impact on patient outcomes.
Discussion: The next generation of programmes to improve family support for chronic disease management incorporate a variety of strategies. Future research can define optimal clinical situations for family support programmes, the most effective combinations of support strategies, and how best to integrate family support programmes into comprehensive models of chronic disease care.