For those who want to be home but need ongoing care beyond what friends and family can manage, a home health-care provider can help. Home health-care services provide in-home medical treatment, therapy or help with essential activities of daily living to individuals who are diagnosed with a new illness, recovering, disabled, or chronically or terminally ill. A home health-care provider plays a key role in a patient's quality of life, so choosing the right one is an important decision. You'll want to consider the quality of care, availability of needed services, AND personnel training and expertise.

"The first step in selecting a home health-care provider is to evaluate your needs," says Maureen T. Bannan, RN, MA., executive director of Hebrew SeniorLife's Home and Community Based Services.  "Services offered by home-care providers range from skilled care to household assistance. Physicians, nurses and therapists can help treat illnesses and provide skilled services such as injections and intravenous therapy, wound care and education, as well as rehabilitation. Home health aides can assist with activities of daily living, while chore workers and companions can help with household tasks and offer comfort. Talk to your physician or a hospital discharge planner for help in assessing your needs."

Once you have narrowed your search to a few choices, the following questions may help in your final selection.

What are home-care services agency's qualifications?

If you're considering a home-care services agency, ask whether they are accredited by a governing agency or certified by Medicare. If you're considering hiring a home health aide privately (not employed by an agency), be sure to thoroughly screen that individual and investigate his or her credentials. Check references.

What is the quality of care?

Ask an agency about their hiring and training procedures, whether their caregivers are licensed and insured, and how care is supervised. Make sure you or your loved one feels comfortable with the caregiver.

What kind of service can you expect?

Request a written care plan before care begins. Inquire about limits on the types of tasks performed, availability and emergency procedures.  Evaluate how your questions and phone calls are handled to see if you are really valued as a potential client.

What are the costs?

Make sure you understand all of the expenses, how billing will be handled, and if fees are covered by private health insurance, Medicare or another source.  Also ask about holiday and weekend rates to be sure that you are fully aware of the costs before entering into an agreement.

Remember that you are in charge.  Home-care providers are guests in your home.  They are there to assist you in your recovery, gaining independence and feeling safe.  If you have in an issue with a bill, a particular caregiver, or concerns about your health and safety, you should communicate this immediately.

Home is a great place to be.  Home-care providers are expert in managing care in the home environment and helping patients access community resources to support their desire to be at home.  Tapping into this expertise allows you to be in the comfort of your home and becoming or remaining as independent as possible.