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If your loved one's doctor orders home health care, here are seven things to know

​If a physician recommends home health care for a loved one, you may have a lot of questions about how it works. Would he or she be better off in a hospital setting? How will care be administered? What services are provided? How is it different from other types of medical care?

"Receiving professional health care at home is becoming increasingly popular," says Christopher MacInnis, Senior Vice President of Hospice and Home Health for PruittHealth. "Not only is it less expensive, but it's also generally what patients want. And the technology for administering care at home keeps getting better, making it more feasible for more people."

But what is this type of medical care, who is it for, and what's involved? Here are the answers to seven frequently-asked questions.

Which patients are good candidates for this type of care?

Patients are often referred for home health care after an inpatient hospitalization, time spent in a rehab center, or a stay in a skilled nursing facility. Its purpose is to help patients recover outside of a hospital or rehab setting. Home health is also good for seniors who have had a recent change in medication and who may need to be monitored or for those who need therapy to transition back to greater independence.

What are the advantages of home health care?

Aside from the emotional benefits of being in comfortable, familiar surroundings, it may surprise you to know that people recover from surgery faster at home. They're also less likely to get an infection, which may happen in a medical facility. The patient receives individualized attention on a convenient schedule, and it's also just a fraction of the cost of a stay in a medical facility.

What's the difference between home health, hospice, and personal care?

Home health care provides skilled nursing services like therapy, administration of medication, health monitoring, pain management, surgical wound care, and medical testing. It's usually not intended to be long-term care. Personal care, sometimes called home care, provides help with non-medical issues like delivering meals, house cleaning, personal hygiene, and companionship. Although hospice care also often occurs at home, it's more focused on end-of-life comfort rather than on recovery.

How can I choose a good home health care provider?

Before you decide, develop a checklist.1 Gather information on the providers' history, management, and licensing; understand how they hire and monitor their care workers; discuss what services will be provided and when and whether the nurses and therapists engage the family members and help train them in how to care for the patient. You'll also want to understand costs and insurance and how they deal with emergencies. Get references and check them.

Who pays for home health care?

Many types of private insurance, Medicare, and the Veterans Administration cover home health care for those who are homebound, although these benefits usually last only until the patient is stable and no longer requires ongoing medical attention. If the patient has long-term care insurance, this may be extended. And for those without insurance, there are other options. These include state programs and public agencies that offer financial assistance for low-income seniors.

What services does a home health nurse provide?

Home health offers skilled care provided by a licensed nurse, including post-op wound care, assessing the patient's health, administering medications, and generally carrying out the physician's orders. But the nurse will also teach the patient and the family how to manage medical equipment and give injections. Physical, speech, and occupational therapies are also provided to help get patients more mobile; to get them speaking again after a stroke or other debilitating event; and to improve fine motor skills that allow them to feed and dress themselves.

How do we get started with home health care?

Once your loved one's doctor recommends home health and certifies that he or she needs the services as part of a plan of care, you'll receive a list of agencies in your area that provide those services. The Medicare website offers a tool for comparing these home health providers.2 Use that and your checklist, verify references, read reviews online, speak to the operators of the facilities, and finally, talk to the insurance provider to make sure the facility is covered and to discover what your out-of-pocket costs will be, if any.

Not all home health is equal

"Just be aware that quality matters," says MacInnis for PruittHealth. "You'll want to make sure your family member is getting the best possible care, so do your homework before choosing a provider. And don't forget to consult with the patient. The happier he or she is with the decisions, the better the chance for a good recovery."

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