AIMS AND OBJECTIVES: To explore and understand the experience of new informal caregivers in Italy during the transition from hospital to home.
BACKGROUND: Frequent patient discharge into the home environment has lead to a significant increase in postdischarge care being provided by family caregivers. The transition period in particular is seen as a period of great significance, as caregivers may be unprepared and concerned as to the amount of care required by the recipient.
DESIGN: A qualitative phenomenological approach was used to gain a deeper understanding of caregivers' lived experiences.
METHODS: Data were collected at two points in time using different methodologies: in-depth interviews were conducted to explore the caregivers' perspective of the predischarge period; focus groups obtained data after the patients' re-entry into the home environment and aimed to validate interview findings.
RESULTS: Family caregivers reflected on three main themes during the transition period: (1) their newly acquired role; (2) the recipient's condition; and (3) the support they required. The core concept of 'being responsible for everything' seemed to be a recurring theme running through these three subject matters. Fulfilling numerous commitments and different social roles besides the caring activity itself seemed to weigh heavily on caregivers. Carers were referring particularly to their need for hope, confidence and safety during the transition from hospital to home.
CONCLUSIONS: It cannot be assumed a priori that families can cope with the demands of care-giving. Therefore, healthcare professionals should come to recognise caregivers as persons in need of emotional and practical support.
RELEVANCE TO CLINICAL PRACTICE: The findings of this study can stimulate healthcare professionals to acquire effective communication skills and display an empathic attitude when assessing caregivers' needs in the particularly challenging phase of transition from hospital to home.