Family Caregiver Communication in the ICU: Toward a Relational View of Health Literacy


ABSRACT: We interviewed 18 family caregivers about their communication experiences in the ICUs at an urban hospital. Analysis of their narratives suggests health literacy is important in family caregiver/healthcare provider communication, especially as complicated illnesses move the caregiver deeper into decision making. Using the domains of Yuen et al.’s conceptual model of caregiver health literacy (2015), we identified three themes within the context of ICU communication: agency, coordinated communication, and caregiver’s evolving role. We saw family caregivers negotiating domains of health literacy as they built upon knowledge of the patient’s needs, their rights as family caregivers, and the hierarchy of the professional staff. We found that these narratives represent co-created, or relational communication, rather than individual health literacy skills. Conceptualized in the transaction of relationship, health literacy is enacted; it is socially constructed and is the scaffolding upon which family caregivers make decisions, care for their loved one, and care for themselves.

Publication Title

Journal of Family Communication