Why Home Health Caregivers are the Heroes of the Healthcare Ecosystem

Honoring Home Health Heroes

The National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) celebrates November as Home Care and Hospice Month. During this month, the home care and hospice community honor the millions of nurses, home care aides, therapists, and social workers who make a remarkable difference for the patients and families they serve.

Because of home health agencies, patients are receiving the healthcare they need, in the setting of their desire – specifically, the comfort of their home.  According to NAHC, home care is the preferred method of health care delivery among the disabled, elderly, and chronically ill.  Home care provides high-quality, compassionate care to more than 5 million Americans annually.  Home care providers will travel about 8 billion miles to deliver health care in 2018.

Understanding the Role of Home Health Caregivers

Home health team members are caring and compassionate, making a difference in the well-being of their patients and the lives of patients’ families.  However, they face unique challenges in their critical role in patient’s lives.  The Nursing Journal highlights several cornerstones of individuals who are successful home healthcare nurses:

  • Solid time management skills: Preparing for the day means that the home health provider has a plan for checking in virtually and/or in-person with one’s patients.  In-person appointments may require a provider to make sure s/he has the appropriate supplies on-hand.  However, a planned schedule may change over the course of the day given patients’ unique situations.  As a result, the provider needs to be flexible and adjust to change on-the-fly.
  • Critical thinking and assessment skills: Home health providers need to be able to make on-the-spot decisions about a patient’s health status or needs.  For example, one must be able to detect early signs and symptoms of decompensation and act quickly to keep a patient stable.  Depending on the situation, the provider needs to advocate for a change in medication regimen or escalate the issue for a specialist to review.  Home health providers also need to monitor lab values over time, identify trends, and notify appropriate care team members if there are any concerns.  As Danielle Pierotti, acting president and CEO of ElevatingHOME and VNAA, shared, “a good home health employee is resilient, adaptable and able to solve unique problems in challenging environments. It is critical that home health providers are knowledgeable and confident in the basics to safely problem-solve unusual situations.”
  • Effective teaching skills: Home healthcare settings provide nurses with many opportunities to put their teaching skills and the teach-back method to effectively assess a patient’s knowledge and need for reinforcement of past educational topics.  The teach-back method is a recognized communication approach and often the first step to helping someone with a health problem.  As the AHRQ states, “effective clinician-patient communication is assured because patients are asked to ‘teach back’ what they have learned during their visit.”  Patient-provider communication is enabled as patients are asked to “use their own words to explain what they need to know about their health, or what they need to do to get better.”
  • Smart medication management: Due to the number of prescribed and OTC medications patients take and the number of prescribers involved, patients may be overwhelmed with keeping the medications organized and understanding what to take / when to take it / how to take it.  Home health providers help facilitate medication reconciliation in order to ensure patients are now taking the right medications, at the right time, and in the right way.  The various prescribers and pharmacists can be included in a video call to discuss the medication regiment now needed.  During in-person and virtual visits, home health providers can help patients become better informed, engaged, and on track with their treatment plans.
  • Excellent listening, written and verbal communication skills: Home health nurses help coordinate care among services including physical, occupational, and speech therapy; social work; and home health aides.  These team members must also build strong relationships and have clear communication with families, caregivers, and community / support resources such as Meals on Wheels or transportation services.

Bringing healthcare to the home is no easy task.   As NAHC President William A. Dombi stated, “Home care and hospice nurses, therapists, aides, and other providers who choose to use their lives to serve our country’s aged, disabled, and dying. This noble work deserves our recognition and praise and we celebrate November as home care and hospice month for that very reason.”

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