Finding a home care agency that meets your needs may take some research, but it will be time well spent. You’ll want to review the quality of their services, if the services you need are included, staff training and expertise, and your health insurance coverage. Most communities have several providers to choose from. Here are some places to start your search.
Talk with your doctor, nurse, social worker, or hospital discharge planner about home care agencies near you. They usually have worked with home care agencies and know which ones can be counted on to respond best to your needs.
Information and referral services may be offered through your local area Agency on Aging, local United Way chapter, or the nearest chapter of your American Cancer Society.
Contact your state’s department of health or social services to get a list of licensed agencies. If you’re looking for a Medicare-certified agency, contact Medicare at 1-800-MEDICARE (633-4227) or their website, www.medicare.gov.
National resources like the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) can help you find home care services near you. You can also check the Medicare website for Medicare-certified home health services.
There are many things to look at in choosing the best agency to meet your needs. First, you’ll want to talk with your cancer care team and figure out which services you’ll need. Then you can look for agencies that offer those services.
Here are some of the things you might ask about a home care agency.
There are a number of ways you can find information about the quality of care given by the home care agency.
Accreditation by a nationally recognized group: Check to see if an agency is accredited (certified and licensed) by a nationally recognized group, such as The Joint Commission. The Joint Commission is an independent, non-profit organization that evaluates and accredits health care organizations and programs.
Medicare certification: Medicare-certified programs have to meet certain requirements for patient care and management. Many non-Medicare health plans follow Medicare's guidance on approval and certification. Payment for hospice services may depend on the program's approval or certification so check to be sure.
State licensure: You can check with your state health department to find out if your state requires a home care provider or program to be licensed.
References from professionals: Consider finding out how many years the agency been serving your community. Ask the agency to give you references from professionals — such as hospital or community social workers — who have referred other patients to them. Ask for names and telephone numbers. You might want to talk with these people about their experiences with the agency.
Be sure to ask if the home care agency has written information outlining services, eligibility rules, costs and payment procedures, employee job descriptions, and malpractice and liability insurance. Ask them to send you any brochures or other available information about their services. And ask to see a copy of the agency’s patient’s rights and responsibilities information. Have them explain anything you don't understand.
When choosing a home care agency, make sure that they offer the services you need. You will want to know if they offer home health care, personal care, or both. Also check to make sure they employ the types of professionals you need, such as nurses, therapists, and home care aides. It may also be helpful to ask how much experience they have providing services to people with cancer.
Find out if the agency can provide the medical equipment or other items that you need. Also ask if the agency will teach you or a responsible family member how to use and care for the equipment. And find out who you can call if equipment problems come up at night or on weekends.
Finally, ask how quickly the agency can start services and whether they will be able to provide the services when you need them. Some could have certain geographic service boundaries.
Find out if the home care agency works with each patient and family to apply polices or work through different needs. If the agency imposes conditions that you don’t feel comfortable with, it may be a sign that it’s not a good fit for you. It may also help to ask if the agency will work with you to find out what your insurance will cover and what your out of pocket costs might be.
Ask if you will need to have a primary caregiver as a condition of admission. If so, ask what will be expected of the primary caregiver and whether someone needs to be with you all the time. You may want to ask if the agency can fill in to help with care around job schedules, travel plans, or other responsibilities. Or, if you live alone, ask what other options they suggest.
Usually a nurse, social worker, or case manager comes to evaluate and talk to you about the types of services you may need. Ask where this will be done and what the evaluation will involve, including who should be present during the visit. It may be important to ask if the initial evaluation includes input from your family doctor or other professionals already involved in your care.
Home care agencies should offer a care plan for each new patient. Many states require that a registered nurse (RN) develop the plan. It’s a good idea to ask how the plan is developed and if you and your family will have input. The plan should be written out and copies given to everyone involved. The care plan should list specific duties, work hours/days, and the name and telephone number of the person who will be in charge of your care. The care plan should also be updated as your needs change. You can ask to see an example of a care plan.
You may want to ask about references for home care staff and whether the agency trains, supervises, and monitors its staff, caregivers, and volunteers. Ask how often the agency sends a supervisor to the patient’s home to review the care being given. Find out whether the caregivers are licensed, insured and bonded. And ask who takes questions or complaints and how are issues resolved?
It is important to find out how a home care agency handles payment and billing. Read any agreements carefully before signing and be sure to keep copies. Check with your health insurance provider to find out if there are any deductibles and co-pays. For example, certain medicines may require a co-pay. And ask what resources the agency provides to help you find financial assistance if it’s needed.
The agency should have a 24-hour telephone number you can call any time you have questions or problems. Ask about the procedure for calling about problems, and for making and resolving concerns or complaints. How a home care agency responds to your first call to ask about services may be a good sign of the kind of care to expect.
Finally, ask if the agency has an emergency plan in place in case of bad weather, a power failure, or natural disaster. You can ask to see a copy of their plan. In an emergency, you need to know if the agency can still deliver services to your home.
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
Last Revised: July 30, 2021