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How to Choose a Personal Care Services Agency

There’s no place like home — whether you’re recovering from surgery, managing a chronic illness or simply slowing down in your senior years. But what if you (or a loved one) needs more assistance than friends and family can provide? That’s the question for many modern seniors and their families. Three out of four adults over age 50 want to age in place, according to AARP, but most don’t believe they’ll be able to do so without significant help.

That’s where personal care services (PCS) agencies come into play. Trained caregivers and home health aides help patients with everything from chores to personal hygiene to running errands. This way, they can live independently for longer, without feeling like a burden to their families.

Yet, all personal care services agencies are not created equal, so it’s important to do your due diligence before choosing an agency. What should you look for as you’re evaluating your options?

Ability to Meet Patient Needs

Different home care agencies provide different in-home services. For example, some provide both home health care and PCS, while others specialize in one or the other. Before you start screening agencies, determine what type of services you or your loved one needs. This might include:

  • Companion services: supervision of dementia patients, transportation or help with recreational activities

  • Personal care services: help with bathing, dressing, going to the bathroom, eating, exercising and other daily activities

  • Homemaker services: housekeeping, shopping and meal prep

  • Skilled care: wound care, physical therapy, injections, chronic disease management and other medical care provided by a licensed health professional

Make a list of exactly which services you need so you can find one provider that offers them all. Also include specific needs the patient might have based on language and cultural preferences, or even personality.

Provider Reputation

Most home care agencies employ trustworthy caregivers who strive to provide a good customer experience, but some agencies are more diligent than others when it comes to background checks, quality control and fraud prevention.

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When looking for a reputable home care agency, start by asking for recommendations from friends, family, healthcare providers and local senior care organizations. You can find and compare agencies in your area via a directory on the Medicare website.

When interviewing agencies, find out how long they’ve been in business, and ask for references from current or former clients. Note that some states require home care agencies to be licensed, while others do not. Be sure to ask about their licensing and accreditation, as well as whether employees are bonded or insured.

Staffing Practices

Personal care services are, by definition, personal — especially if the caregiver will be helping with tasks such as bathing or toileting. Ideally, you want one or two people that the patient trusts, rather than an endless parade of strangers. Just as importantly, you want to be sure someone will show.

As you’re interviewing agencies, ask about their scheduling practices. Will you have a dedicated caregiver, or just whomever is available that day? Can you interview the caregiver to determine whether they’re compatible with the patient? What happens if a caregiver calls in sick? Will the agency notify you, send a replacement or just leave you hanging?

Also, ask about their hiring practices, including the types of professionals they employ, the average tenure of their employees, whether they run criminal background checks, how often they screen employees for drug use, and what types of job training they require/provide.

Costs and Coverage

Depending on where you live and what type of insurance the patient has, you may be able to get assistance with the cost. Medicare only covers PCS if the patient is also receiving skilled home health care. Long-term care insurance, Medicaid, Medicare supplemental insurance and private insurance might cover some of the costs. However, in most cases, there will be out-of-pocket expenses.

That’s why it’s important to understand the full cost up front — including the price of each service, daily or weekly minimums/maximums, holiday/weekend/overtime rates and any additional expenses that you might rack up.

To find out what services are covered by Medicare or Medicaid, visit benefits.gov. The patient’s primary care doctor can also help you determine whether insurance will foot any of the bill.

Use of Mobile Technology

Technological innovation might not seem like an important criteria for PCS agencies, but smartphone-wielding caregivers tend to be more reliable, more informed and more closely supervised by the agency. When agencies rely on paper-based documentation, supervisors often don’t even see the paperwork until caregivers turn it in at the end of the week. Important information can slip through the cracks, or worse — agencies might not be aware of missed visits until it’s too late.

Look for an agency that makes strong use of mobile technology for employee scheduling, communications, documentation and electronic visit verification. This way, agencies know their caregivers’ locations, are in constant contact with them, get real-time data, know for certain that visits have been completed on time, and can prevent fraudulent claims.

In other words, agencies can ensure that your loved one has a satisfactory patient experience with a home aide you can trust to care for your loved one with the same integrity, empathy and reliability that you would. The patient can stay healthy and independent at home, and family and friends can have peace of mind — and that is invaluable.

If you operate a personal care service agency, now is the time to ensure you’re compliant with the EVV mandate. Get a rundown on everything you need to know about EVV, and then check out the unique requirements in your state.

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Taylor Mallory Holland

Taylor Mallory Holland is a professional writer with more than 11 years of experience writing about business, technology and healthcare for both media outlets and companies. Taylor is passionate about how mobile technology can reshape the healthcare industry, providing new ways for care providers to connect with patients and streamline workflows. She stays on top of emerging trends and regularly speaks with healthcare industry leaders about the challenges they face and how they innovate using mobile technology. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @TaylorMHoll

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