Home Health Care vs. Home Care

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Updated: June 8, 2022


Home health care and home care are used interchangeably, but there is a difference.

More than 80% of seniors say they want to live at home for as long as possible in retirement. However, as aging can make adults more prone to chronic pain or other complex conditions, living at home alone or with a partner is not always realistic or safe. Fortunately, visiting caregivers can often be the perfect solution, giving older adults the support they need to stay safe and healthy while living in their home of choice.

If you or your loved one could benefit from a visiting caregiver, you need to begin to understand the difference between home health care and home care. While these terms are often used synonymously, there are big differences in the services these agencies provide. Here is what you need to know as you explore home health care and home care choices near you.

Home Health Care

Home health care services are sometimes referred to as “medical services”. These are specialized services given in the home that are considered skilled in nature. What does that mean? Well, it means home health care services are similar to those you would receive in a rehabilitation or hospital setting.

Here are some home health care services that you might receive at home through a qualified provider:

  • Wound care, including dressing changes and monitoring
  • Therapy services, including physical therapy, occupational therapy, or speech therapy
  • Shot administration or medication administration
  • Medical tests, such as blood draws
  • Care of a feeding tube 
  • Complex medical monitoring or assessments

Home health care services are often prescribed by a physician when an adult leaves the hospital or a skilled nursing facility. These services can be covered by insurance or Medicare, but they are typically for a designated timeframe and can decrease when the person is making progress towards their health goals at home.

Home health care providers are bound by specific billing laws and care regulations. The people who perform home health care services are licensed or certified professionals. For example, an RN might perform the dressing change on a wound and a Physical Therapist would be giving the in-home therapy services to rebuild balance after a fall. Certified nursing assistants or patient care technicians also may be a part of the home health care services team.

Home Care

Home care services, or non-medical services, are focused on assistance with daily tasks

In contrast, home care services are sometimes called “non-medical services”. These services are just as important to safety and wellbeing as medical services, but they focus on activities of daily living and quality of life.

Examples of home care services can include:

  • Companionship visits
  • Grocery shopping or running errands
  • Meal planning and preparation
  • Assistance with dressing, bathing, toileting, eating, etc.
  • Overnight assistance or safety monitoring
  • Light housekeeping and laundry
  • Transportation to/from appointments, errands, social opportunities, etc.

These services are crucial to seniors who live at home but might not have the strength or energy to keep up with managing household tasks or hygiene. Visiting caregivers can provide not only a meaningful relationship with the older adult, but can also notice if they are exhibiting concerning symptoms that could prevent hospitalization or an emergency situation.

Typically, caregivers visit consistently either daily or weekly. They also tend to stay for more than one or two hours per shift, giving them more time to establish a meaningful relationship with the senior they are serving. Caregivers do not need to be certified or licensed to perform these services, but most providers ensure they have the ongoing training they need to keep everyone safe. Caregivers are also vetted through background checks and drug screenings.

In most cases, a nurse oversees the care plan of clients who receive home care services. Insurance sometimes can offset the costs of home care services as well. Consider a medical alert device for your loved one when home care can not be there. Read our Life Alert reviews to find the right fit.

Choosing a Provider

When it is time for you to choose a provider for yourself or your aging loved one, asking the right questions can point you to an agency that will give you the care you need. Here are some good questions to ask during the interview process:

  • Do you provide the type of services (medical or non-medical) that I need?
  • How do you train and monitor your caregiver staff?
  • Will you send the same caregiver or professional to the home each time or will it always be someone new?
  • How do you communicate with family members?
  • Can I vary the hours I need each week or month? Or am I locked into a certain number of hours in a contract?
  • Do you offer around-the-clock assistance?
  • Do you have any recent reviews or referrals you can share with me?

Just like with any decision, consult those around you who have walked this path before. Talk with family members, friends, or neighbors who have enlisted the assistance of home care or home health care agencies in the past. Get their opinion about what worked and what didn’t so that you can use that information to make your experience even better.

Remember, if you aren’t sure what type of services you need, speak with your physician. They will be able to guide you and provide a prescription for medical services, if needed.