As we get older, or encounter unexpected long-term health issues, the question of quality of life can weigh on our minds. Not only may we be faced with the burden of regular hospital visits and consultations, our loved ones are inevitably affected too — especially for more serious illnesses. This is not to mention the difficulties faced by a demoralised National Health Service that faces a growing and ageing population, compounded by the ongoing crisis in social care.
These are just a few of the factors that have seen some people turn to home healthcare — not to be confused with home care. In this article, we’ll explore the exact nature of this service, how it works, and weigh up its advantages and disadvantages.
As the name suggests, home healthcare (aka at-home medical care) involves making sure that people receive treatments for illness and injury from their own home. While it’s common for people of a certain age to be cared for from within their four walls by a professional — otherwise known as assisted living or social care — medical care at home is different.
At-home medical care or ‘skilled care’ is prescribed by a doctor and provided by a physician, therapist or nurse. It can involve treatment for surgical wounds, IV and nutrition therapy, monitoring serious illness and giving injections, plus lots more.
To receive skilled healthcare at home, you must have it prescribed by a doctor or authorised medical professional. The most common form will be nursing provided by healthcare professionals who visit the home of patients and give them treatment there, often following a personalised plan.
The NHS offers ‘continuing care’ in some cases, where social care is provided for free to a patient. However, this falls under the ‘domiciliary’ care category and is for individuals who need help with daily tasks and general living.
Clinical at-home treatment, however, may involve specialist or palliative care if what is required is end-of-life or post-operative care. This is only available from the NHS for people with specific health needs. Otherwise, clinical visitation can be secured through healthcare services. Nursing professionals visit the patient and perform the necessary tasks to support their recovery through maintaining and adjusting medical equipment for the patient.
It’s less uncommon in today’s world for those who require and can afford it to install a medical bed at home. This may take the form of the standard ‘hydraulic’ bed that is found in the majority of hospitals, or the electric profiling bed with an adjustable mattress to prevent slippage.
According to the UK Health and Safety Executive, here “movement is powered and controlled via a bedside handset by staff and, if appropriate, the bed’s occupant”.
Home-care medical devices like these are categorised as Class II healthcare equipment, meaning that they require approval by an approved body, as XP Power explains. This classification indicates that they can pose moderate risk to the patient if they are not operated correctly. Aside from beds, other examples include infusion pumps, portable dialysis machines, respiratory equipment or scanners, all of which may be used in at-home medical care.
The immediate benefits of having healthcare provision at home are that it creates a more positive experience for the patient, especially if they are older. Should the person recovering from surgery need physical therapy, they may not want to remain in a facility, which can be detrimental to mental wellbeing.
If the patient is senior and lives alone, having consistent contact with healthcare professionals can reduce loneliness, which is itself a health risk. When receiving medical support in their own home, the patient may find they feel more comfortable since they do not have to experience the uncertainty and potential stress of hospital visits. This helps to lower the likelihood of readmission to hospital.
On the more practical side, at-home medical monitoring can be expensive especially if it is 24/7. In some cases, a patient may require more intervention to keep them secure and maintain their health than it would if they were in a medical facility where these services are ready to hand.
It can also take a while for some elderly patients to adjust to having a stranger in their home, and these professionals who provide home care at a highly-trained level will be costly. For some people, it can make more financial sense to permanently move to a care home where specific medical appliances are available for regular use.
In short, at-home medical care can support the wellbeing of someone with ongoing health complications. The consistent monitoring and personal contact with a healthcare professional can also help to lower the risk of hospital readmission in the short and long-term.
While the biggest obstacle for many is the cost of receiving medical support at home, there are options to receive funded support from the health service. The NHS states that “if you’re eligible for NHS-funded nursing care, the NHS will arrange and fund nursing care provided by registered nurses employed by the care home. Services provided by a registered nurse can include planning, supervising and monitoring nursing and healthcare tasks, as well as direct nursing care”.