for ExcellenceHW-MadisonfloSchooFamilyStudiesinCenterum•UanEcologyVolume 2 Issue 3 FamilyMattersA Family PerspectiveinHealth CareA Family Impact Seminar Newsletter for Wisconsin PolicymakersFamilies Are Key toCurbing Health Care CostsBecause families have a powerful effect on individuals’ wellbeing, research shows that a family-centered approach tohealth care may help curb rising health care costs.
Accordingto University of Minnesota Professor William Doherty, “thefamily is the hidden agent of health activity in the UnitedStates.”1 For example, studies indicate that seven illnessepisodes are treated at home for every one that requiresprofessional attention.2 Thus, targeting policy and practice tosupport families in this pivotal role could provide a powerfuland cost-effective means of preventive health care.How can understanding family involvement really make adifference for individuals’ health and illness? Researchersincreasingly recognize families’ important roles in influencinglifestyle factors and as gatekeepers to the health care system.From prevention to long-term care, families both influenceand are influenced by the health of their individual members.Doherty divides families’ experiences in the health and illnesscycle into five major roles (see Figure 1):1. Families can help promote health and reduce therisk of illness.
Family members influence each others’ health habits. Eating andexercise routines are learned at home, as are patterns of substanceuse or abuse. For example, while teens are more likely to smokeif a parent does, Doherty’s research finds that family stress is aneven stronger predictor of teen smoking habits. Families can alsoprovide support for changing unhealthy behavior. In cases wherediet or exercise patterns need adjusting, involving family membersin treatment can significantly improve long term.