Examining the context and helpfulness of family companion contributions to older adults' primary care visits

Patient Educ Couns. 2017 Mar;100(3):487-494. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2016.10.022. Epub 2016 Oct 25.


Objective: Older adults commonly involve family (broadly defined) in their care. We examined communication behaviors of family companions during older adults' primary care visits, including whether these behaviors vary with respect to how older adults manage their health, preferences for involving family in medical decision-making, and ratings of companion helpfulness.

Methods: Analysis of audio-taped primary care visits of older patients who were accompanied by a family companion (n=30 dyads) and linked patient surveys.

Results: Family companions predominantly facilitated doctor and patient information exchange. More than half of companion communication behaviors were directed at improving doctor understanding of the patient. Companions were more verbally active during visits of patients who delegated the management of their health to others than visits of patients who co-managed or self-managed their health. Companions were rated as more helpful by patients who preferred active involvement of family in medical decision-making.

Conclusion: Family companion participation and helpfulness in primary care communication varies by patients' preferences for involving family in medical decision-making and approach to manage their health.

Practice implications: Research to examine the effects of clarifying patient and family companion expectations for primary care visits could inform strategies to improve the patient-centeredness of medical communication.

Keywords: Family caregiver; Patient-provider communication; Physician office; Primary health care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Clinical Decision-Making*
  • Communication*
  • Female
  • Friends*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Office Visits / statistics & numerical data
  • Patient Preference*
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Patient-Centered Care
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Primary Health Care
  • Professional-Family Relations