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By MayoClinic.com

Whether you're having surgery and need help caring for yourself while you recover, or you have a chronic illness and need help caring for yourself long-term, home care services may be an option.

More and more, doctors are telling people who need continued care that the best place to receive that care is in the comfort of their own home. But to receive quality assistance, it's important to understand the role of home care, how to find home care services and what questions to ask so that you hire the home care agency that's right for you.

What is home care?

Home care services provide you with a range of assistance. For example, home care services may include:

• Skilled care. Conducted under the direction of your doctor, skilled care consists of services provided by health care professionals such as nurses and therapists. It can also include activities such as home dialysis, medical social work and physical therapy.

• Home support services. These services include tasks such as housecleaning, running errands and preparing meals. These services may be all you need to allow you to continue living independently in your own home.

• Combination care. Some home care offers a combination of services provided by a team that includes a mix of doctors, social workers, registered nurses, dietitians, home health agency staff, visiting nurses, therapy specialists, home care aides, chore workers and others. The team carries out a detailed care plan tailored to meet your specific needs.

You may consider home care services if you need assistance caring for yourself because:

• You're less able to care for yourself as you get older
• You have a disability
• You're recovering from an illness, surgery or a hospital stay
• You're living with a chronic illness
• You've been diagnosed with a terminal illness
• You have a child with special medical needs

How to find the right service:

The first step to finding a home care service is to talk to your doctor about what services you'll need. You may only require an occasional visit from a nurse to administer medication, or you may need more elaborate medical care.

Your doctor, hospital social worker or hospital discharge planner may be able to recommend several reputable home health care agencies. Your friends or family also may be able to provide some insight into which home care services provide the best care. Or you can check the Yellow Pages, under the heading "Home health care" or "Nurse." Other sources include your state and county health departments and area agencies on aging.

If you're planning to receive financial assistance from the government or your insurance company, make sure the services you need are covered. Often home care is covered by insurance for a limited period of time.

What questions to ask:

Once you've identified a prospective agency, ask these key questions:

· How long has the agency been serving the community?

· Is the agency certified by Medicare? If so, that means it meets federal requirements for health and safety. An agency's Medicare survey report is public information. If the agency is not certified, ask why.

· Is the agency licensed by the state? Most states - but not all - require agencies to be licensed and reviewed regularly. These reviews may be available upon request and can be valuable for gauging the quality of an agency. To obtain a report, contact your state health department.

· Are the caregivers bonded and insured?

· What is the professional training of the nursing staff?

· Does the agency employ registered nurses and licensed practical nurses? Who supervises them?

· Who will be working in your home, and what are his or her specific duties?

· Does the agency provide literature explaining its services and fees?

· Is there a written plan that details services to be provided? Documents - including financial arrangements - should be given to you before service begins so that there's no misunderstanding about the service to be provided.

· What procedures does the agency have for emergencies? Are caregivers available round-the-clock? Is someone on call?

· How does the agency protect client confidentiality?

· Can the agency provide references? Ask for a list of doctors, hospital discharge planners, former clients and family members of former clients who have experience with the agency.

· Is the agency approved or accepted by your health maintenance organization (HMO) or supplemental insurance company?

Monitoring your home care provider:

After you've found a home health care provider, it's up to you to monitor the care you receive to make sure it's what the doctor ordered. That's where having a detailed, written care plan can help. Make sure the care you're receiving follows what's detailed in the plan. Record the number of visits from the agency. And if you have any questions about the care you're receiving, ask your doctor.

From: MayoClinic.com

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