Jessica from has some great tips for how home health nurses and caregivers can work together to help families. What a great team nurses and caregivers can make!

How Home Health Nurses Work With Family Caregivers

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There is no better time to talk about home health nursing and working with family caregivers than November, which is National Family Caregiver Month! Oftentimes, patients who are bed or chair-limited and therefore able to receive home health services are the ones with full-time caregivers, either family members or private duty caregivers (or both).

These patients may have recently left the hospital and require home health services for a temporary amount of time, or they may have a chronic and medically complex condition like multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s which requires extended home health services over many years. As a home health nurse, you will wear many hats in your line of duty, namely the following:

Nurse as Educator

It would be no surprise to hear a family caregiver say that the most practical caregiving advice and tips they ever learned was from a home health nurse. As a home health nurse, you may educate family caregivers in how to:

  • Monitor vital signs from home

  • Dress a bed sore or surgical wound

  • Address low or high blood pressure

  • Administer medicine (oral or intravenous)

  • Check blood sugar levels

  • Recognize signs of infection

  • Prevent patient aspiration when eating/drinking

And the list goes on! Family caregivers rely on home health nurses for tips, training, and education because they are likely not going to find that type of one on one help in the hospital or at the doctor’s office. Caring for a family member comes about by doing - there are no classes, courses, or tutorials which family caregivers have the luxury of going through before their loved one gets sick. 

Wearing the hat of “teacher” places home health nurses in a very special and rewarding role that empowers family caregivers and helps ease up on the day to day burden they carry in taking care of a loved one. As a home health nurse, you will seamlessly weave together patient care and education by involving family caregivers during your visits and forming a real relationship with them and your patient.

Nurse as First Contact

Home health nurses are often the frontlines of health management which can potentially help patients stay out of the hospital. How exactly? If a patient is stable but not feeling well, i.e. fever, stomach ache, pain, etc., a home health nurse can pay a visit and run in-home tests the patient’s doctor has ordered. 

These may include blood tests (CBC, etc), urinalysis, and basic physical examinations for pain, oxygen saturation levels, abdominal and chest sounds, etc. As a nurse, your ability to administer tests at a patient’s home may allow the doctor to write an order for medicines or other treatment/referrals based on test results. For example, take patient John Smith. He is 72, bed-limited, incontinent using briefs, and has recurring UTI’s. His family caregiver reports to the home health agency that John is spiking a 101.2 fever and seems to be experiencing physical discomfort when using the bathroom. Vitals are still good but there is cause for concern. 

The agency caseworker can speak with the patient’s doctor who will order a CBC and urinalysis, which a home health nurse can perform same day. Stat results may reveal an infection, and while the urine has to culture for a few days, the doctor can go ahead and order a wide-spectrum antibiotic in the meantime and help keep the patient out of the hospital.

A home health nurses ability to visit, monitor symptoms, and run tests saves the patient and their caregivers the stress of taking a trip to the hospital or doctor’s office, and often allows them to get treatment faster than if they had to wait to schedule an appointment. Home health nurses can also be that on-call reassurance family caregivers need to bounce questions and concerns off of, and in dire circumstances, make the recommendation that caregivers get their loved one to the hospital.

Tips for Home Health Nurses

Working with family caregivers can be both rewarding and at times, frustrating - it’s simply the nature of the job. Communication plays a critical role in optimizing patient health and safety by working with family caregivers. 

Aim to over-communicate - scheduling time to visit your patient may vary from day to day or week to week. It’s always better to over-communicate, i.e. that you are running late or need to change visit times, than to leave your patient and their family caregiver wondering where you are.

Don’t assume - in the beginning, it will not serve you well to assume what a family caregiver does or does not know. If you have doctor’s orders to dress a bed sore on the patient’s sacrum, for example, gauge the family caregiver’s level of knowledge first by talking to them, and run through the steps of dressing the wound accordingly, offering helpful tips, supplies, etc.

Stay organized - for home health nurses who drive to multiple patient homes a day, your car is your office and supply closet. Stay organized and remember a patient’s home does not offer the same controlled environment of a hospital. You’ll want to find a good bag for carrying equipment like a thermometer, pulsox, blood pressure device, and the best stethoscope for nurses, as well as your laptop or tablet as provided by your agency.

Be flexible - as an educator, home health nurses need a sense of humor, good communication skills, and a basic understanding that they, along with their patient’s family, only want what is best for the patient. Your sense of flexibility will go a long way in helping you make the most of your time as a home health nurse, as well as your patient and their family caregiver’s time.

Author Biography

Jessica Hegg is the content manager at  Avid gym-rat and nutrition enthusiast, she’s interested in all things related to staying active and living healthy lifestyle. Through her writing she works to share valuable information aimed at overcoming obstacles and improving the quality of life for others.

AuthorCourtney Tracy