Across Canada and around the globe, home care programs are part of our publically funded health care system. Government programs usually provide case management, care planning and coordination, as well as direct professional services, such as nursing and rehabilitation. Other care is often provided through contractual agreements with private home care organizations, particularly when it comes to supportive care like home support, personal care, and assistance with daily living.

Additional services are also available on a fee for service basis. You may have third party coverage that may cover costs if you are eligible. Examples of third party insurers are private health plans, workers compensation boards, or other government services such as Veterans’ Affairs Canada.

It is likely to be a new experience for you if you are faced with having to choose a home care provider. Knowing what questions to ask and what things to consider in the decision-making process can be confusing. The following information may provide some guidance to you in choosing a home health care provider that is quality-focused, client-centered, and experienced. Here are some things to ask about:

Time in Business. This is appropriate as initial evaluative criteria, although not very sophisticated; it will give you some insight into the company’s history. With increased demand for in-home care and support services, organizations that have been in business for several years should have programs and personnel to meet your needs due to their experience and track record. For an initial review check their website. Most reputable companies have established websites with lots of information to help you with your decision-making.

Accreditation. Accreditation Canada (AC) is one of the main accrediting body for health care organizations in Canada. CARF and ISO 9000 are others you may hear about. Home care organizations should be accredited by an external body. It is a basic requirement to hold a government contract in most jurisdictions and best practice for any company offering home care. Accreditation is an indicator that the organization meets a minimum standard. Ask whether or not your provider has achieved accreditation status, whether or not it is current, and what their report says. Is there condition on their accreditation status or did they achieve a rating of excellence?

Service Provider with the government home care program. Home care providers who have contractual agreements with their local government home care program have likely been through a rigorous screening process. This is another way an organization has demonstrated quality processes to an external reviewer. However, like any of the other criteria it is only one indicator.

Responsiveness. When the need arises, response time is everything. You should expect an assessment within a day or so and service should be able to start quite soon. You should not have to wait a number of weeks. Wait times do exist within both government programs and private programs and in both not for profit and privately held companies. However, they should not be extensive. Quality home care providers are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Qualified providers should always be able to respond to urgent requests and whether providing an in-home assessment or meeting a more urgent need, a quality, accredited home care provider is both dependable and predictable.

Thorough Assessment. A Registered Nurse, or other qualified health care professional, should be the one to complete a detailed in home assessment. They will also demonstrate a thorough understanding of your care objectives, the required care and equipment, and desired health outcomes. The assessment should be followed by a detailed careplan that you have had a say in, including what care has been agreed upon, who will be providing the care, and when. It should prevent any surprises.

Flexible Services. Home care is not only nursing care, but also personal care, homemaking, and a whole lot more. A wide variety of home care and support services, personalized to meet identified client needs should be integrated into the plan of care. Qualified and accredited home care providers will have a number of available services to meet your health care, support, and respite needs.

Professional, trained staff. Qualified home care providers dedicate a tremendous amount of time, money, and human resources to recruiting and retaining appropriately educated and high quality staff. They will have sophisticated screening and hiring procedures. A specific orientation program, followed by on-going education and inservice programs are hallmarks of competent providers and every caregiver should have taken part in this before providing any home care services.

Going the Extra Mile. Circumstances surrounding care requirements for individuals with health care needs at home can be challenging for all concerned. Sometimes, it seems that something has to give in order to assure that needs are met. Quality home care providers are distinguished by a “can do” attitude. You should feel that they truly want to help you and your loved one.

I hope these guidelines will assist you in choosing the right home health care provider if you ever need one. It can be very stressful and finding a good ‘fit’ between the provider organization and your family is paramount to feeling of peace, comfort and security. I have written on this topic a number of times and a version of this information has previously been printed in The Caregiver and The Edmonton Journal.

PS: The image is a poem created by a participant in one of my earlier research studies on family caregiving. Caregiving, both the physical nature of it as well as decision-making and advocating for services, equipment, and support, is a demanding venture. There are over 8 million caregivers across Canada and they need mush more support to do this role. We  need to do more as a society. Our health care systems need to do better, way better! I wish all caregivers the best support and love as you travel on your journey.