As an aspiring health care professional, you have the option of pursuing a specialization. This could range from mental health to pediatrics to critical care. One such path available to nursing professionals is home health care nursing.
A career in home health care can be appealing for nurses who want more autonomy as well as the flexibility to structure their schedules beyond a typical 12-hour hospital shift. And as one of the fastest-growing industries in U.S. health care, agencies and recruitment centers are competing for qualified applicants to address this growing need.
What Is Home Health Care Nursing?
A home health care nursing professional is a nurse assistant, home health aide, licensed vocational nurse (LVN), or registered nurse (RN) who cares for patients in their homes. This could mean personal houses or community living facilities, like retirement communities. Home health care nurses are responsible for performing various tasks for patients who are unable to do such tasks for themselves.
Successful home care staff need to be extremely organized and detail-oriented, effective communicators, and good at problem-solving. Being in a patient’s home means you don’t have the normal resources available to other nurses who work in facilities, like fellow staff or a unit’s nursing supply closet.
However, caring for patients in their own homes makes for a much more personal setting for treatment than a medical office or hospital. Having a positive attitude and a sense of humor can help set patients at ease, especially since you are a stranger entering a patient’s private residence.
Home care nurses have the opportunity to diversify their work from the patients they care for to the types of care and medical expertise they provide. Most job descriptions for home health care professionals usually have a combination of similar requirements, based on your job title.
- Compile initial health evaluations, document vital signs, and symptoms, and create individualized plans of care
- Clean and dress wounds, and detect early symptoms of any problem that could result in hospitalization
- Monitor the patient’s health and update the care plan accordingly
- Communicate with physicians, social workers, and other health advisors (as well as supervise home health aides if an RN or LVN)
- Instruct patients and their families on proper home care and provide suggestions to improve the patient’s safety at home
- Provide encouragement and support to patients and their family members
Because patients can have any number of health issues that would make them need home health services, as a home health care nurse, you may need to possess many specialized skills, including basic knowledge in medical-surgical, mental health, community/public health, pediatrics, and gerontology. How much detailed knowledge you need to have is based on your job title and job description, but each home health care nurse should know how to look for any signs of problems that could get worse or mean hospitalization, like bedsores.
Why Is There an Increasing Demand for Home Health Nurses?
The demand for overall health care employment has been steadily increasing in recent years, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting 1.9 million new healthcare jobs to be created by 2028. Home health care is no exception. This sector is expected to grow by 36% before the end of the decade.
There are three main reasons to explain why there is expected to be such a jump in the numbers of new jobs:
- The baby-boomer population is aging, and there is an increasing number of older patients who want healthcare options that will allow them to maintain their independence and remain in their homes longer.
- Patients are being discharged more quickly from hospitals than before for a number of reasons, even though they still require some level of nursing care. For these patients, the cost of home health care may be lower than moving into a long-term care facility.
- Because patients are allowed to remain in the comfort of their own home, this type of health care often results in greater patient satisfaction, which can encourage patients to comply with treatment plans, which improves their overall health outcome.
Types of Home Health Care Professionals
There are several types of home health care professionals that are important in making sure patients receive the best care possible. Some responsibilities you’ll take on as a home health nurse depends upon your job title, and your job title depends on what licenses and certifications you have. Here are some examples of the different roles home care nurses have.
Nurse assistants provide basic patient care under the direction of an RN. These home health aides can be called by many other names, including nursing care attendants, nursing aides, home health aides, and nursing attendants. However, their responsibilities are normally the same.
Basic patient care usually means day-to-day tasks, known as activities of daily living, that patients aren’t able to perform for themselves. This can include feeding, bathing, dressing, changing linens, taking vital signs, assisting with mobility, and reporting any concerns the patient or the nursing assistant may have to the supervising LVN or RN.
You will need to complete an accredited course and get certification in order to work as a home health aide. Each state has different requirements. If you are interested in becoming a home health aide, look at technical or community colleges near you to see what courses are available.
Licensed Vocational Nurses
Licensed vocational nurses, sometimes called licensed practical nurses, provide basic nursing care, also under the direction of an RN. This includes collecting and presenting data to the RN, completing direct task-based nursing care, administering medication (except for IV infusions), administering wound care and changing dressings, taking vital signs, and reporting any concerns the patient may have to the supervising RN.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected an 11% employment rate increase for LVNs by 2028, which is much faster than the combined average for all other occupations. There are a couple of ways to become an LVN, either through a non-degree program or after your first year in a two-year RN program.
Registered nurses in home health care settings are responsible for a more advanced level of nursing care and oversee nursing assistants and LVNs. They create a plan of care based upon a patient’s needs, direct and oversee LVNs and nurse assistants, and monitor the patient’s healing and mobility progress. Different states have laws that determine what medications LVNs can give to patients, but RNs can administer any medication within their scope of practice.
Where Do Home Health Nurses Work?
Home health nurses work as part of a comprehensive medical team. They fill the gap between hospitalization or long-term care facilities and independent living. Many are employed through home health agencies, hospice organizations, nursing agencies, retirement communities, and insurance companies, and they are assigned to specific patients.
Home health nurses can also work independently. Some caregivers prefer to hire specific home health care professionals that they know of or have recommended to them by different sources. While this usually means the nurse will work with the same patient every shift, these home health nurses may not have the added legal protection, benefits, and support as nurses working with an agency.