Family and Friend Participation in Primary Care Visits of Patients with Diabetes or Heart Failure

A study of nonprofessional family and friend (“companion”) participation in physician visits of adults with chronic diseases found that both patients and physicians report positively on companions’ presence, though most physicians perceive barriers to increasing companion participation.

The researchers conducted a survey of 439 functionally independent adults with diabetes or heart failure and 88 of their primary care physicians (PCPs); they completed a written survey on companion participation in clinic visits. Patients answered questions on frequency of and experiences with companion participation in PCP visits, while physicians answered questions on frequency of, experiences with, and barriers to companion participation.

Both patients and physicians reported positively on companion participation. Forty-eight percent of patients reported that companions, at least sometimes, participated in their PCP visits, and participation was most likely among patients with complex management issues and likelihood of worse outcomes. Patients were more likely to understand PCP recommendations and discuss difficult topics with their PCP when companions were present. Nearly all PCPs reported positively on companions, although 66 percent also saw at least one barrier to increasing companion participation.

The generalizeability of these results is limited by the sample used because all participants came from one health system with a relatively homogenous patient population. Similarly, these results might not apply to patients with other chronic conditions.