Long Distance Caregiving: How to Help a Distant Loved One Who  s Had a Heart Attack

When someone has a heart attack, rapid treatment can mean the difference between surviving or succumbing. If you’re not on the spot, it can be particularly challenging to care for an ailing relative or friend. But if you’re prepared, you can ensure that help is immediately available when a loved one needs it.

Calling other friends and relatives, ordering food deliveries to the patient’s or primary caregiver’s home, and communicating directly with the patient to provide assurance and express a desire to help are just a few ways you can be there—even when you’re not.

There are other ways you can care for a distant heart attack patient:

Keep Track of Important Information

When you are directly responsible for a loved one’s care, always take note of the following information:

  • The patient’s insurance policy numbers and carriers’ contact information.
  • The patient’s Social Security number.
  • Phone numbers for the patient’s local hospital and emergency services.
  • Contact information for the patient’s primary physician.
  • Knowledge of your loved one’s medical history and current medication regime.
  • Contact information for a local pharmacy that can deliver medication.
  • Contact information for a grocery store that can deliver food.
  • Phone numbers of neighbors, as well as relatives and friends in closer proximity.
  • Copy of a will and health care proxy, if one exists.

Keep this information organized in a safe, convenient place, along with a notepad or paper you can use to keep track of new information.

In addition, "Be sure you are on the list of individuals with whom your loved one’s physician is allowed to speak," stresses William A. Tansey III, MD, cardiologist at Summit Medical Group in Short Hills, NJ. "Physicians are obligated to comply with patient privacy laws, even when speaking with relatives. So if you’re not on the list, you may not be able to get the information you need in a timely manner."

In an Emergency: a 4 Step Plan

If you suddenly get news that a long-distance loved one has had a heart attack, there are several things you might want to do immediately:

  1. Call the patient’s doctor to get a prognosis and instructions on post-heart attack care. Make sure your new notes are kept with the information you’ve already gathered.
  2. Call others who may have knowledge of your loved one’s condition(s) and who may be able to offer sound advice.
  3. Be prepared to revise your own personal plans, if necessary, in the upcoming weeks. For instance, you may need to contact airlines or other transportation companies to reserve a seat as soon as possible. You may also need to make arrangements at work, letting your supervisor know if you need time off, and arranging for coworkers to cover you while you are gone.
  4. Take care of yourself. Caregiving from a distance can be more stressful and more expensive than caring for someone locally. The more organized and clear-headed you remain, the easier it will be to help others.

Frequent and clear communication, with and about the patient, will also help keep the situation in control.

William A. Tansey III, MD, FACC, ACP, FAHA, reviewed this article.


National Alliance for Caregiving. "General Caregiving." Accessed July 14, 2014.