Achieving family and provider partnerships for children with special health care needs

Diana Denboba, Merle G McPherson, Mary Kay Kenney, Bonnie Strickland, Paul W Newacheck
Pediatrics 2006, 118 (4): 1607-15

BACKGROUND: During the past 2 decades, family-centered care has evolved as the standard of care for children with special health care needs. A major principle of family-centered care is a strong partnership between the family and provider, working together to address issues and barriers to accessing comprehensive care and related services. The federal Maternal and Child Health Bureau defines a positive family-provider partnership as a core program outcome. Our objective was to assess the extent to which families of children with special health care needs feel as though they are treated as partners in decision-making by their doctors.

METHODS: We analyzed the 2001 National Survey of Children With Special Health Care Needs, a nationally representative telephone survey of caretakers for 38,866 children with special health care needs. Bivariate and multivariate statistical methods were used to assess the frequency of meeting the partnership core outcome, as well as the demographic and socioeconomic predictors of meeting core outcome. We also examined the effect of partnership on indicators of access and well-being for children with special health care needs.

RESULTS: Among children with special health care needs, 85.8% of families reported usually or always feeling like a partner in their child's care. However, living in poverty, minority racial and ethnic status, absence of health insurance, and depressed functional ability placed children with special health care needs and their families at elevated risk of being without a sense of partnership. We found that sense of partnership was associated with improved outcomes across a number of important health care measures, including missed school days, access to specialty care, satisfaction with care, and unmet needs for child and family services.

CONCLUSIONS: Results of the survey demonstrated that whereas most families of children with special health care needs feel they are partners in the care of their child, further work is needed, particularly for poor, uninsured, and minority children, as well as those with functional limitations. The survey results also demonstrate the importance of partnership; children whose care met the partnership core outcome experienced improved access to care and well-being.

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