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What are Home Health Care Agencies?

Home health care involves the delivery of health care services in a residential setting by licensed medical professionals. Typically the care is delivered by nurses, such as Registered Nurses (“RNs”) and Licensed Practical Nurses (“LPNs”), and Certified Nursing Assistants (“CNAs”), but can also involve physicians.

Home health care is both for short-term and long-term situations. Short term situations would include rehabilitation from an accident or hospital visit while long-term for would be for the maintenance and treatment of chronic illnesses.

Home health care agencies provide services in a residential setting as opposed to an office or hospital/acute care facility. This can be a home or apartment or other type of living arrangement such as independent living or assisted living facilities. Many senior living facilities work directly with home health care agencies to provide services that require medical professionals.

The general idea is that treatments in a residential setting have been shown to have better outcomes and cost less than care delivered in an institution. Patients tend to be more comfortable at home, so they are not as stressed. It is particularly useful in situations where a patient can manage some daily routines and where 24-hour care is not needed.

Where applicable, home health care has proven to:

  • Improve recuperation time
  • Provide more independence
  • Help patients with chronic conditions to decline slower

A very important factor is that home health care can provide temporary relief or respite for primary caregivers.

Home health care is not the same as end of life care which is provided by hospice.

What do Home Health Care Agencies Do?

Home health care agencies cover a specific geographic area which is composed of multiple ZIP Codes. Agencies employ various professionals including RNs, LPNs, CNAs, physical therapists, nutritionists, social workers and counselors. Most services are provided on an hourly basis.

Not all agencies provide all services. Be sure to compare home health care agencies to make sure that you get what is needed.

Medical services that health care agencies provide include:

  • Medication management
  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Infusion therapy
  • Nursing care
  • Pain management
  • Psychiatric services
  • Wound care
  • Injections
  • Infusion therapy
  • Chronic Illness monitoring

Some agencies also provide additional, non-medical care which may or may not be covered by Medicare or private insurance. These include:

  • Companionship
  • Meal Preparation
  • Light housework
  • Night monitoring

A detailed comprehensive review of health care agencies and how they fit into the continuum of care, can be downloaded here.

What Home Health Care Agencies Cannot Do

Home health care is not for patients that require 24-hour monitoring or that are at the end of life. Often home health care agencies have limited staff. Home health care agencies are not for emergency response.

Does Medicare Cover Home Health Care?

Medicare does cover most of the costs of home health care but only if you qualify.

The most important qualification to obtain home health care is that you are “homebound”. Homebound in this context means that you require assistance to leave your home. Assistance can mean that you need a cane, a wheelchair or walker, crutches, or even just the assistance of a third-party due to a chronic or acute condition. The criteria can also be met if it is not advisable that you leave your home because of your condition. It does not mean that you cannot leave your residence under any circumstances.

To qualify, patents must be under the care of a doctor and the services and the doctor must direct the care. For Medicare, the home health visits are only approved for a short period of time. Renewal requires an in person visit with either a physician or nurse practitioner.

Your need must also fit one of the services that home health care agencies provide.

Medicare may not cover all services.

How to Compare Health Care Agencies? How to Search for Health Care Agencies?

The data published by The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (“CMS”) is not as robust for home health care agencies as it is for skilled nursing facilities or hospitals nor is it published as regularly. (It seems like the data publishing schedule is intended to be quarterly, but the past few years have not been that predictable.)

CMS provides a single 5-Star Rating metric that summarizes multiple qualitative measures developed from statistics related to patient improvement.

The data also includes results of patients surveys called Home Health Care Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (the worst acronym ever: “HHCAHPS”). HHCAPHPs is a 34-item questionnaire that measures patients’ experiences with the home health care agency. Additional information on HHCAHPS is available here.

Our home health care search results show the providers that serve a particular ZIP code and rank the agencies based on the CMS 5-Star Rating, so you can see which are the best home health care agencies near you and which are the worst home health care agencies near you.

We also provide a detail page for each Home health care agency that compiles the ratings and survey data along with other attributes such as which services the agencies provide and comparisons with both state and national averages.

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