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Navigating Care Choices: Understanding Home Health, Hospice, and Palliative Care

The responsibility of caring for a loved one comes with many decisions, which may include the choice between home health care, hospice care, and palliative care. Each of these options offers particular services tailored to different needs and circumstances. In this article, we will help you understand the differences to help you make the best decision for your loved one. Let’s dive in.

What is Home Health Care?

Home health care is a service that allows people to receive professional medical care in the comfort of their homes. Home health care services can include skilled nursing, physical therapy, wound care, medication management, and more. Put simply, “home health care is usually less expensive, more convenient, and just as effective as care you get in a hospital or skilled nursing facility.” (Source) Home Health often follows an illness, hospitalization, or surgery. Typically, home health is short term and likely covered through your loved one’s health insurance.

Services offered through home health care

The services offered through home health care vary, but include things like:

  • Wound care. This could for things like pressure sores after a long hospital stay/sedentary period, or a surgical wound

  • Education. A home health aid can train you or your loved one on best care practices for current ailments/conditions.

  • Intravenous nutrition (or other) therapy. If your loved one needs help getting food or water in, keeping it down, or another form of intravenous (IV) therapy, this can be handled at home.

  • Injections. Routine injections are another option for home health care.

  • Monitoring an illness or unstable health status. Home health can also be useful for longer-term monitoring of some chronic or worsening conditions.

The goal for home health care is generally to help your loved one(s):

  • Recover in a comfortable environment

  • Regain independence at home

  • Become more self-sufficient as they heal

  • Maintain or slow decline

Home health care eligibility and benefits:

Eligibility for home health care is typically determined by a physician's recommendation. The home health care eligibility criteria generally considers things like:

  • Being considered “homebound.”

  • Needing periodic care from skilled medical professionals.

  • Having a plan of care ordered and supervised by a doctor.

Home Health Care vs. Hospice Care

The main difference between home health care and hospice care is the end goal. Home health care aims to help you recover and function well in your environment as you do so. Hospice care, on the other hand, is end-of-life care. Its primary goal is to enhance the quality of life during the final stages of an illness. Hospice care can be provided at home, in a hospice facility, or in a hospital. It prioritizes comfort, pain management, and emotional support.

When to consider hospice care

Hospice care is typically appropriate at the point when curative treatments are no longer effective or wanted. At this time, the focus shifts to enhancing the patient's comfort and maintaining their dignity during the end-of-life journey. It's designed to provide compassionate care and support not just for the patient but for the family as well.

Home Health Care vs. Hospice Care vs. Palliative Care

Palliative care is easy to confuse with hospice care, but it's a completely different approach to care with different primary goals. Palliative care is also about comfort, but not necessarily end-of-life comfort. Instead, it’s an interdisciplinary form of medical care aimed at providing relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness, regardless of the stage of the disease. Its primary focus is on improving quality of life, managing symptoms, and addressing emotional and psychological needs.

Integrating palliative care

Your loved one(s) care team can integrate palliative care into an existing treatment plan from the moment of diagnosis, offering support alongside curative treatments. This approach ensures that the patient's physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being are all considered. As such, it can pair with home health care if desired.

How to Choose a Treatment Path

Step 1: Assess needs

The first step to ensuring you make the right choice for your loved one is to start by assessing their specific needs, goals, and prognosis. To do that best, consult with relevant healthcare professionals, including the primary care physician, specialists, and social workers, to get a full picture and understanding of the available options.

Step 2: Consider practicality

Consider the practical aspects of a care or treatment plan, like the location of care, the need for medical equipment, and the availability of support from family and friends. You should also take financial needs and health insurance coverage into account during the decision-making process.

Step 3: Maintain ongoing communication

Once you choose a plan with these things in mind, the job isn’t over. As time goes by, maintain open and ongoing communication with the healthcare team and your loved one(s). Your loved one(s) needs may change over time, so keeping an open dialogue can ensure your loved one(s) needs and desires are all considered.

Closing Thoughts

As you continue your caregiving journey and make tough care plan decisions, know that you are not alone. The California Caregiver Resource Center of Orange County is here to provide assistance and guidance. Together, we can navigate the healthcare landscape and help you provide the best possible care for your loved one(s) over time.

Further Reading: Understanding the Difference: Medi-Cal vs. Medicare for Family Caregivers in Southern California

​​When navigating healthcare options and decisions, you may have realized that you aren’t sure what the difference is between Medi-Cal and Medicare. These two programs can provide valuable assistance, but knowing which one applies to your situation is incredibly important. So let's explore the nuances of Medi-Cal and Medicare, empowering you to make informed decisions in your caregiving journey. Dive in here.

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