Home health care services can offer a caring alternative to assisted living or other long-term care options. They also provide an affordable way for seniors and other adults with physical or cognitive limitations to remain in their own home. Home health care is delivered in the home of the patient, not in a hospital or nursing facility. Services may be provided on an occasional basis for assistance with specific activities (such as dressing, bathing, or taking medication) or on a regular basis to monitor changes in the patient's condition and preventative measures. There are many different types of home health agencies, ranging from stand-alone services to those that are part of a larger continuum of care. If you are considering using home health care services, here are some things that you should look for when interviewing potential providers:
The Right Staffing and Equipment
There are two primary factors to consider when evaluating a home care provider's staffing and equipment: the ratios of caregivers to patients and the types of equipment that are provided. When it comes to ratios, the fewer patients each caregiver has to manage and the more time each patient receives, the better. A 1:5 or 1:6 ratio is generally the minimum recommended by experts. The types of equipment that a home care provider provides can be an important deciding factor as well. For example, a home health aide who can't lift or move a patient without assistance or has no medical equipment on hand to deal with a medical emergency is not a safe choice. You should also consider what types of equipment your insurance company approves. Some companies may require oxygen tanks, wheelchairs, or other specialized equipment.
A Proper Care Plan
Ask the home health agency that you are considering whether they will be creating a customized care plan for your loved one. If so, you should be able to view and/or approve it before it is finalized. Without a care plan, no one will know what services are currently being provided and which ones are needed next.
This could lead to a confused or frustrated patient, a caregiver who doesn't know what to do, and/or unnecessary hospitalizations or other interventions. A written care plan will ensure that all parties know their roles, understand the specific goals of the plan, and are working towards achieving those goals. In addition to a written care plan, be sure that the home health agency that you choose is actively communicating with all of the relevant parties.
Your loved one's doctor, the agencies that provide medical supplies and equipment, potential employers, and even family members and friends should be kept up to date on all aspects of the home health care process. Without constant communication, critical pieces of the puzzle could fall through the cracks.
Home health care providers are responsible for providing services that are tailored to meet the specific needs of each patient. This means that caregivers will need to communicate with patients and their loved ones to discover those needs and determine how best to meet them. Some questions that you can expect providers to ask include:
- What is your loved one's diagnosis?
- What are her current abilities and limitations?
- How can we best meet her needs?
- What are her preferences for treatment?
- What family members or friends will be helping out?
You should expect providers to communicate with you as well. Ideally, you will be included in your loved one's care plan and receive regular updates on her progress. One of the best ways to evaluate a home healthcare agency's communication skills is to observe one of their team meetings. While you should not expect to be allowed to sit in on an actual staff meeting, you should be able to observe the communication flow between caregivers and management personnel. The best home health agencies hold team meetings at least once per shift. Ideally, they will be held at the beginning of the shift, allowing caregivers to discuss the day's goals, assess the patient's progress towards meeting those goals, and make any needed adjustments before starting their work.
Constant Caregiver Supervision and Monitoring
Home health care providers should always be keeping an eye out for any potential changes in your loved one's condition. This includes monitoring her overall health, mobility, cognition, and safety. For example, if your loved one has a history of falling, the home health care provider's staff should be monitoring her for signs of unsteadiness and/or potential for a fall. They should also be looking for ways to reduce her risk of falling. A good home health care agency will also be monitoring your loved one's overall health. This means looking for signs of dehydration, malnutrition, and other common health problems. It also means monitoring her response to medication and making sure that she takes all of her prescribed medications, as prescribed.
Reputable and Accredited Home Care Agency
The best way to find a reputable and accredited home health care agency is to choose one that is certified by The Joint Commission (TJC). This non-profit organization sets standards for the healthcare industry, including those that apply to home health care providers. Another important factor to keep in mind when evaluating home health care providers is their accreditation status. Most accreditation organizations provide ratings based on the specific standards that they use to evaluate health care agencies. The most common accreditations include CARF, JCAHO, and Accreditation Commission for Health Care (ACHC). Obviously, the best home health care agencies are accredited by all three of these organizations. A few other things to look for when assessing a home health care provider are:
- The number of complaints received against the agency in the past three years
- The number of households served by the agency
- The agency's financial health
- The length of time that the agency has been in business
- The number of locations where the agency provides services
- Any employment or quality assurance guarantees provided by the agency
Home health care is an important alternative to assisted living or other long-term care options. It also provides an affordable way for seniors and other adults with physical or cognitive limitations to remain in their own home. If you are considering using home health care services, it's important to look for agencies that have the right staffing and equipment, a proper care plan, and constant communication between caregivers and patients and their loved ones. A reputable and accredited home health care agency can also help you stay as healthy as possible, even if you live alone.