Home Care

"Home care" addresses both house calls made by physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants, and care delivered by nurses and rehabilitation therapists working for home healthcare agencies.

Role of Health Care Professionals in Home Care

Your primary care provider is usually the leader of an interdisciplinary healthcare team that may include physicians, nurses, therapists (speech, physical, occupational, and respiratory), social workers, personal care aides, medical equipment suppliers, and most importantly, formal and informal caregivers (e.g., family members). Although all team members are important, your primary care team is responsible for working with you or someone you identify to determine your health care needs. Your primary care provider also develops, certifies, and recertifies the plan of care.

House Call Services

House calls refer to visits to the home by physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants to provide medical services. These at-home evaluations can add to a healthcare provider’s knowledge of the circumstances and home setting of the older person.  This may allow them to see and address problems that are not obvious during an office visit. For example, there may be barriers that prevent an older person from functioning as well as they could, such as cluttered hallways or a home that has no railings when it should.

An at-home evaluation may also reveal caregiver burnout, elder abuse, or the use of medications that may get in the way of managing or treating a disease. This service also helps older adults who may have difficulty getting out of the home because they do not have to travel to see the healthcare team.

Home Health

Home health refers to services provided by nurses and rehabilitation therapists (physical/occupational/speech therapy) who are part of home healthcare agencies.  You may benefit from home health if you are dealing with one or more of the following: 

  • You have trouble getting around (for example, after a hospital stay or an accident).
  • You have wounds that need to be addressed and treated.
  • You need injections or other treatments requiring a skilled nurse.
  • You need to learn more about your medical condition(s) and how to monitor them at home to avoid complications (for example, monitoring your diet, weight, blood pressure or your blood sugar).
  • You need help with bathing, dressing, and meal preparation.
  • You need care and emotional support when in the final stages of an incurable disease.

Home health may be needed for some adults during a brief period of recovery. In select cases, some adults may benefit from ongoing house call services on an ongoing basis.

Medicare Coverage

In order to qualify for Medicare coverage for home care, a person must be “confined to home.”  Medicare describes confined to home as having a condition that makes it hard for you to leave home.  You do not have to be bedridden to be considered “confined to the home.”  You can still be considered “confined to the home” if you leave your home to see a healthcare professional, go to a religious service, or go on “occasional outings" (for example, a walk around the block, family reunion, or other events that do not take place on a regular basis).

For more details, take a look at the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services’ booklet on Medicare and Home Health Care.

Limitations of House Calls and Home Health

Most older adults prefer to remain in their own home. However, situations and conditions may come up that make care in an institution or facility more appropriate. For example, caregivers may not be available to adequately address the needs of the older person. Similarly, caregiver burnout and stress may prevent continued safe care for the older person in the home. 

There are also some serious medical situations that require frequent testing, breathing treatments, or intravenous medications.  In these cases, receiving care in an institution may be a better choice than house calls or home health. Sometimes, the home setting itself may be a barrier to delivering care in the home. For example, home health may be a poor or risky option for an older person living in an unsafe neighborhood, for someone who has trouble with alcohol or drug use, or for a person who doesn’t have enough room for equipment or environmental modifications. 

Finally, care in the home is not always the least expensive choice. Out-of-pocket costs may make ongoing home care unaffordable. Insurance is more likely to cover care that is given in a nursing facility or other institutional setting. 

Home Assessment & Modification

People confined to the home often have health problems or disabilities in one or more areas of their health and functioning. A comprehensive geriatric assessment is particularly valuable in this situation. A comprehensive assessment can be used to figure out the older person’s initial level of health and functioning, monitor the course of their illness, and evaluate effects of their treatments. Also, assessment in the home has some important advantages over office-based assessment.

Advantages of Home Assessment

The healthcare provider can see how the patient functions in their actual home environment.

This helps the healthcare provider determine if the home is safe and appropriate for the patient’s particular abilities and disabilities, or if changes need to be made. For example, the healthcare provider can assess if the older adult can perform activities of daily living (ADLs), such as bathing or dressing. The provider can also evaluate the caregiver’s abilities to address the needs of the older person. Home assessment can also identify and address the caregiver’s needs for counseling, training, and/or support.

Home Modifications

There are two types of changes (modifications) that can be made to make sure that the home is safer for the older adult.

Environmental modifications 

Environmental modifications can be recommended to improve function. For example, an older adult’s quality of life and ability to function might be improved by using modifications such as a hand-held shower, a shower seat, bathtub grab-bars, or a bedside commode. Barriers to using wheelchairs and walkers (such as door sills) can be identified and removed. Chair lifts and outdoor ramps can be recommended to help older people manage stairs. The assessment might also include an occupational therapy consultation. This can be useful in identifying other personal care and assistive devices for performing activities of daily living (or ADLs) and housekeeping chores. A number of home safety checklists are also available to help with home assessment.

Assistive technology 

Assistive technology to improve home safety can also be an option. For example, necklace or wrist radio devices that allow the older person to call for help. There are also emergency response systems that require the older person to push a button by a certain time each day.  If they do not push the button, it will trigger an emergency response or checkup phone call. Newer technologies can provide help in administering and tracking medications, monitoring and transmitting vital signs, and connecting older adults to healthcare providers through audio and visual telemedicine screens. Homes can be equipped with fully automated systems to adjust heating and lighting, to allow doors to be opened and closed with remote devices, and to monitor activity throughout the home.

Portable or mobile testing technology (home diagnostics), including x-rays,electrocardiograms (ECGs), and hand-held laboratory devices are available in some areas. These home diagnostics allow for a much more comprehensive medical evaluation to be done in the home.


Last Updated October 2020