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McDonald, J., McKinlay, E., Keeling, S. and Levack, W. (2015) How family carers engage with technical health procedures in the home: a grounded theory study. BMJ Open. 5(7), p.e007761.


OBJECTIVES: To explore the experiences of family carers who manage technical health procedures at home and describe their learning process.

DESIGN: A qualitative study using grounded theory.

PARTICIPANTS: New Zealand family carers (21 women, 5 men) who managed technical health procedures such as enteral feeding, peritoneal dialysis, tracheostomy care, a central venous line or urinary catheter. In addition, 15 health professionals involved in teaching carers were interviewed.

METHODS: Semistructured interviews were coded soon after completion and preliminary analysis influenced subsequent interviews. Additional data were compared with existing material and as analysis proceeded, initial codes were grouped into higher order concepts until a core concept was described. Interviewing continued until no new ideas emerged and concepts were well defined.

RESULTS: The response of carers to the role of managing technical health procedures in the home is presented in terms of five dispositions: (1) Embracing care, (2) Resisting, (3) Reluctant acceptance, (4) Relinquishing and (5) Being overwhelmed. These dispositions were not static and carers commonly changed between them. Embracing care included cognitive understanding of the purpose and benefits of a procedure; accepting a ‘technical’ solution; practical management; and an emotional response. Accepting embrace is primarily motivated by perceived benefits for the recipient. It may also be driven by a lack of alternatives. Resisting or reluctant acceptance results from a lack of understanding about the procedure or willingness to manage it. Carers need adequate support to avoid becoming overwhelmed, and there are times when it is appropriate to encourage them to relinquish care for the sake of their own needs.

CONCLUSIONS: The concept of embracing care encourages health professionals to extend their attention beyond simply the practical aspects of technical procedures to assessing and addressing carers’ emotional and behavioural responses to health technology during the training process.

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