What you need to know about in-home health care (sponsored)
July 27, 2016
By Jessica Smith, sponsored by St. Anthony's Summit Medical Center
In-home health care is not a new concept. The home care industry in America came into being sometime in the 1880s, according to the National Association for Home Care and Hospice. Since then, it has grown and evolved, reaching out into communities of all sizes, including Summit County. But many may not know such services are available or how to utilize them.
Home care agencies serve patients outside the hospital for a host of medical issues, from chronic diseases to surgery recovery. Many of these agencies, including Bristlecone Health Services in Summit County, are Medicare-certified, meaning they receive revenue from the government program as well as go through strict accreditation processes. These agencies can then provide service to Medicare recipients with zero out-of-pocket costs.
Fear of high cost of service is one reason that people may not reach out to a home health service, says Linda Whitner, a registered nurse and clinical manager for Bristlecone Health Services.
In fact, there are a number of misconceptions about in-home health care service and what it entails that Whitner and her colleagues consistently run into.
"A lot of folks think that we provide non-skilled home care," says Rob Dewing, director of Bristlecone Health Services.
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Non-skilled home care services, such as light housekeeping, driving patients to doctors' appointments and companion care, are provided by separate agencies which often work in conjunction with partners such as Bristlecone.
Bristlecone, and others like it, provide "short term, in-home focused medical care," says Dewing. These services include visits with skilled professionals such as a registered nurse, physical therapist, occupational therapist, social worker, speech therapist and chaplain.
But in order to get that care, patients have to reach out — a step that's all-too-commonly avoided, says Whitner.
"A lot of patients are afraid to call their doctors. They will lie at home until the problem really culminates," she says.
Peggy, a local Summit County resident, can attest to this. Last fall, she hesitated in reaching out for medical help about a wound on her leg, attempting to treat it herself at home.
"I was so scared," she remembers. "I was afraid to make an appointment."
When she finally did see a doctor, she was hospitalized immediately. The resulting surgery and follow-up care not only saved her leg, but saved her life.
"It's like a miracle, what it has done," she says. Upon leaving the hospital, she received in-home health care from Bristlecone Health Services, where she was not only monitored, but educated in her continuing home treatment.
"Don't be like me, do not hesitate — go to your doctor immediately," says Peggy of advice to others like her, who may be nervous about reaching out for health care. "It's nothing to be afraid of at all."
Treatment that continues in the home environment rather than the hospital is another benefit of this type of service.
"You don't want to be in a hospital, you want to be in the comfort of your home, knowing you're getting that quality care from a well-qualified team," says Dewing.
Yet life doesn't just go back to normal after a patient walks out of the hospital door. There are days, weeks, even months before the final effects fade away. In-home health professionals, like Whitner, have the job of easing the transition from hospital to home, which includes difficulties such as limited physical abilities and navigating medication directions and side effects.
"They feel like they're going to fall apart when they get home," she says. "It takes a lot of education to show them that they're OK. … It's just one little thing at a time."
Statistics provided by the National Association for Home Care and Hospice regarding an in-home health program for patients in Connecticut with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) — which Dewing says is common among mountain communities such as Summit County — showed that fees incurred by the home health were lower by more than $300 monthly compared to hospitalization fees.
The mission of in-home health care professionals like Whitner is for patients to eventually begin to take over their own health care and tasks of daily life, says Dewing, so that "they're improving significantly in their functional status."
And the reward comes in the form of the patient's success.
"Our whole goal is to not only educate our patients, but we want to help them reach their goals," Dewing says. "Nothing is more satisfying than seeing a patient later on down the road, enjoying their quality of life, whether it's out on the trail, or skiing, or just anywhere up here in Summit County."