Medical Tips: How To Choose A Home Health Care Agency

Choosing a physician you trust before an emergency. Information on doctors and insurance in general.

Most people do not think of home health care until they need it and because of this they are forced to make these important decisions at times of personal stress. Making these types of decisions when a loved one is preparing to be discharged from a hospital, still recovering from an injury or serious illness is not the best time to try to screen home care agencies. How do you avoid this? Make a plan and choose a home care agency you trust before you need one.

Begin by finding out what your options are. Call your insurance company and ask who is participating. Look in your phone book and compile a list of home care agencies in your area. You can also obtain this information from your local hospital. Since 1997, hospitals are required by law to provide patients with a list of home health care agencies as part of their discharge paperwork. This list must also identify any providers that are affiliated with the hospital. If this list is compiled well, it will also show you which agencies are certified to provide services for Medicare and Medicaid patients.

Once you have identified your list of choices, you should weigh many factors before you come to a decision about what agency should be chosen to provide care. You need to know the agencies reputation. This can be determined through recommendations from your physicians and by asking your friends and family. You will also need to know what type of services each agency can provide. Some agencies only provide skilled nursing, while others provide physical, occupational and speech therapy. Still others provide personal care aides and home health aides as well. Each of these trained professionals may be needed to coordinate efforts to provide you the maximum rehabilitation. Make sure the agency you are considering is able to provide care in the area that you live. Each agency is licensed and certified in specific counties within your state.



Much of the information you need may be available on the Internet. Most home health care agencies have their own web sites that will provide information regarding their history, hiring practices, coverage areas and much more. If you are not able to locate the answers to al of your questions you will need to contact the home health care agency directly. Make sure you prepare before you make the actual phone call. Sit down and make up a list of questions so you will be able to gain the most information from your interview. In addition to any questions regarding available services and the region they cover, you will want to ask questions that will allow you to determine the agencies qualifications to provide care.

Ask how many years the company has been in business. If it is a national company find out how long they have been in your area. Request names of physicians, health care professionals or former clients who would be able to give you references. Find out if the home care agency is members of any professional organizations. One of the largest organizations is the National Association for Home Care (NAHC). Also inquire if the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) accredits the agency. JCAHO is the largest and most respected accrediting body for the health care industry.

Very important to the choice in a home care agency is the quality of their caregivers. You will need to obtain information regarding the companies hiring practices. Does the company verify the license or certification held by the applicant? Do they obtain and verify references? How do they train new employees regarding their specific guidelines and requirements? Are the caregivers bonded? Do they undergo a criminal background check? Once hired, how do they match a caregiver to a patient? How often are caregivers supervised while providing care? Is staff available 24 hours a day, or is care limited to specific hours. Also, can you contact a nurse or supervisor any time a caregiver is scheduled to be in your home? Do they try to find a replacement if the scheduled caregiver is unable to make it to your home? At the end of your phone call ask the agency to send you more information regarding their services. This may include literature explaining their services, eligibility requirements and fees. They may also include a "Patient Bill of Rights" that outlines the rights and responsibilities of the providers, patients, and caregivers.

Make sure that you actually contact the names of the people you were given as references. Find out how happy they were with the services they received. If they are a health care provider ask them how often they refer patients to this particular home health care agency. What type of feedback have they received from patient's who have received care? Are they participating in any type of contract with the agency? Has the agency lived up to its commitments regarding care under this contract? The answers you receive will help you further narrow down your choices.

After obtaining the answers to your questions, sit down with a family member and discuss the choices. Try not to allow the personality of the person you spoke with on the phone unduly influence your choice in agency. This is why another person is invaluable in making a final decision. Identify which agency will be your primary choice but also chose a second provider in case your first choice does not have available staff. Be sure that any family members who might be involved in setting up care for you is aware of your choice. If you have a living will you may want to attach information regarding your specific choices in health care providers to this document.

Home health care should be provided so that it will meet specific criteria set forth by your physician, insurance company and your personal needs. If this process is followed, not only will your clinical needs be tailored specifically for you, the insurance company will gladly reimburse the agency to the maximum the policy will allow. Home care can benefit not only the patient by allowing them to recuperate in the comfort of their own home surrounded by family and friends, it also gives the insurance company and patient financial benefits. Home care is much more cost effective than keeping a patient hospitalized for any longer than necessary. Don't take this often under-appreciated health provider for granted, choose wisely and you will reap the benefits in the long run.

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