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Purpose/Objective: The benefits of having a support system, such as social relationships with close friends and family, have been well documented for patients with serious health issues. As scientific evidence has shown, individuals who have the lowest level of involvement in social relationships face a greater mortality risk. Support systems, however, are not infallible. Relationship stress can have a negative impact on people-patient and caregiver alike-behaviorally, psychosocially, and physiologically. The purpose of this article is to encourage case managers who take a patient-centered approach to also consider the existence and extent of the support system, as well as any stresses or tensions that are observable within the support system. Although the case manager is ethically obliged to advocate for the individual receiving case management services, that advocacy can be extended to the support system for the good of all.

Primary Practice Settings: This discussion applies to numerous case management practices and work settings including (but not limited to) hospital-based case management, home health, geriatrics, catastrophic case management, mental health, palliative care, and end of life/hospice.

Finding/Conclusions: As part of the assessment phase of the case management process, case managers determine the extent of the patient's support system or social support network such as family and close friends. Although their advocacy is primarily for the patient receiving case management services, case managers also become aware of the needs of the support system members as they face their loved one's serious illness, severe injury, geriatric care demands, or end of life. Case managers can use their communication skills, especially motivational interviewing, with patients and their support systems to identify stresses and issues that can impact the pursuit of health goals. In addition, case managers ensure that individuals and their support systems are kept informed such as about the health condition, stage of disease, plan of care, treatment options, and care transition plan.

Implications for Case Management: Professional case managers expand their role as advocates, serving primarily the patients ("clients") who receive case management services and also members of the support system. By becoming more aware and sensitive to the needs of the support system, case managers help reduce stress on the support system, which can contribute to positive outcomes for patients ("clients").

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