New programs address the whole family

Communication, mentoring play major role

The scope of children’s health doesn’t end with the doctor-parent-child triangle in the medical visit. Other family members play a vital role, as does the dynamic of family support at home.

That is why the Bayer Institute for Health Care Communication in West Haven, CT, decided against a special course geared toward pediatricians and instead is focusing on how physicians relate to family members.

"We will discuss what the physician needs to do to move beyond just dealing with the patient, to dealing with caretakers, close friends, and family," says Vaughn Keller, EdD, associate director.

For example, siblings of children with chronic illnesses may have fears or concerns that need to be addressed.

A family in turmoil may not provide the support a child needs to comply with a treatment regimen, says Barbara Korsch, MD, a leading researcher of doctor-patient communication and author of The Intelligent Patient’s Guide to the Doctor-Patient Relationship.

Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles set up a mentor program for children with juvenile diabetes that is similar to Big Brothers-Big Sisters of America, Korsch says.

"If there is not a supportive adult, like a mother or a sibling, we assign a mentor, an adult model who has dealt with diabetes and will support the child," she says.

Adolescents need support from both parents and peers. And, above all, "communication in the family about the illness is tremendously important," says Korsch.

Editor’s note: For more information about programs at the Bayer Institute for Health Care, contact the institute at 400 Morgan Lane, West Haven, CT 06516. Telephone: (800) 800-5907. Fax: (203) 812-5951. E-mail: World Wide Web: