The Complete Guide to Home Health Care

Your Complete Guide to Understanding Home Health Care

Are you trying to stay independent at home, and out of the hospital as much as possible? Do you need help from a nurse, physical therapist, occupational therapist or speech therapist to be able to do that? If you find it difficult to leave your home, home health care may be the answer.

In this guide, you’ll learn all about home health care, including eligibility requirements, how to find the right home health care provider for your needs and more. We’ll answer frequently asked questions about home health care such as:

  • Who qualifies for home health care services?
  • What services do home health agencies provide?
  • What types of home health professionals will visit me?
  • How much do home health care agencies charge?
  • Does Medicare cover home health care?
  • What’s the difference between home health and home care, hospice and other types of care?
  • How does home health care work?

Download the Complete Guide

Download a PDF version of this Home Health Guide to reference this information and share with your loved one.


Chapter 1

Understanding Home Health Care:
The Home Health Care Definition


Home health care includes a wide range of healthcare services that can be provided in your home. It is often used to help people recover from surgery, injury or an acute illness. Home health providers like Amedisys also help people manage chronic illnesses such as diabetes, COPD or heart disease at home.

You have to meet certain eligibility requirements to get coverage for home health, including your physician certifying that you are “homebound.” This means it’s difficult for you to leave home without help. You also will need to be under the care of a physician, who certifies that you have a skilled need. Home health care is typically covered by Medicare as well as Medicaid and some private insurance plans for eligible patients.

What is home health care? Learn more about the home health care definition.

Home health care is typically delivered by a home health agency like Amedisys. So, what is a home health agency?

Here’s a simple definition of home health agency: an appropriately licensed organization that provides skilled nursing care and therapy services in eligible patients’ homes, in accordance with applicable federal, state and local requirements. Care is delivered by a team of healthcare workers and supervised by the patient’s doctor and a home health nurse.

Learn more about home health care. Complete our brief form to speak to a home health specialist.

*If you are a current Amedisys patient, please contact your Care Center directly.


Chapter 2

What Does Home Health Care Do?

Home health care can include nursing, occupational, speech and physical therapy and other services to help you stay safe at home. The type of care you receive is based on your needs and your doctor’s orders. With Amedisys, your team will work with you, your family and your doctor to:

  • Monitor your health
  • Ensure your doctor and caregiver are up-to-date on your progress
  • Provide high-quality care that helps you manage your illness or recover in the comfort of home

Who is on the home health team? Depending on your needs and doctor’s orders, you may work with a:

  • Nurse
  • Physical therapist
  • Occupational therapist
  • Speech therapist
  • Home health aide
  • Medical social worker


Your home health providers will work with you to set goals that are specific to you and your situation. In general, some of the goals of home health care include:

  • Helping you feel better and recover after an injury or illness
  • Keeping you independent at home as long as possible
  • Delaying or preventing the need for a nursing home or other facility
  • Maintaining your highest possible level of health and ability while living with a chronic illness
  • Teaching you and your caregiver how to manage your health at home
  • Preventing unnecessary and potentially costly trips to the hospital

Examples of Home Health Services

What’s included as part of in-home health services?

There are a variety of home health care services that can be included in your care plan. Every patient has different needs. Your doctor will decide which services are right for you.

In-home health services with Amedisys may include:

  • Skilled Nursing Care

    Nurses serve as your doctor’s eyes and ears in your home. In home health care, a nurse comes to your home to help you recover after a recent surgery, injury or hospitalization, or learn to manage the symptoms of chronic illnesses.

    Depending on your needs, your Amedisys home health nurse may:

    • Teach you and your caregiver about your condition, medications and symptoms
    • Help you manage pain and other symptoms
    • Provide wound care
    • Help you manage your medications
    • Provide monitoring and support for behavioral health disorders like anxiety and depression (if the Amedisys home health program has a behavioral health nurse on staff)
  • Physical Therapy

    Our physical therapists can visit your home to improve your quality of life and reduce your risk of falling.
    Some of the goals of physical therapy are to:

    • Relieve pain
    • Restore flexibility
    • Improve your strength, balance, coordination and ability to move
    • Prevent disability
  • Occupational Therapy

    If you have pain or an injury or illness that makes it hard to do your usual activities, occupational therapy can help make daily life easier. For example, you might learn new ways to get dressed, eat or move around your house. An Amedisys occupational therapist may:

    • Teach you how to use special equipment
    • Suggest ways to make your home safer
    • Provide tips and tools to make it easier for you to do daily activities like bathing, dressing and household chores
  • Speech Therapy

    Our certified speech-language pathologists can help with a variety of speech, language, swallowing, voice and communication disorders. Some goals are to:

    • Improve abilities like memory, swallowing, communication and talking
    • Learn ways to compensate for difficulty understanding and expressing yourself through language  
  • Home Health Aide

    Our home health aides can help you with daily self-care tasks you may have trouble with, such as:

    • Bathing and washing hair
    • Getting dressed
    • Grooming
  • Medical Social Work

    A medical social worker can help you access resources to help you get the care you need. Some medical social worker services at Amedisys include: 

    • Counseling to help you cope with illness and treatment
    • Referrals to helpful services in your community
    • Help with making a long-term care plan
    • Advocacy for your rights and wishes
  • Specialized Programs

    Some home health companies have specialized clinical programs. For example, many Amedisys home health agencies offer a heart failure program, a diabetes program and a COPD program. If you have a condition that increases your risk of falling, our home health companies offer a fall reduction program. This program helps you make changes that reduce your fall risk and build your strength and balance.

Chapter 3

Who Uses Home Health Care?


Adults of any age may receive home health care if they meet the eligibility requirements. Younger adults may need home health after a surgery, injury or acute illness in order to recover. Studies show older adults are more likely to use at-home health care than young people because of higher rates of chronic illness and disability.   


Home health is for anyone who meets eligibility requirements, with a doctor’s order, and needs help at home. You may need home health care if you have difficulty leaving home and:

  • You recently got discharged from a skilled nursing facility or hospital after an illness, injury or surgery
  • You visit your doctor or the emergency room often
  • You’re managing one or more chronic health conditions
  • You take several medications and need help taking them as directed
  • You recently had a medication change and need help monitoring side effects and making sure they’re working properly
  • Daily activities like bathing and dressing are difficult for you

Common Home Health Diagnoses

What are the most common home health diagnoses?

Home health care can help homebound people with a variety of conditions. Some of the most common diagnoses for home health patients include:

  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Hypertension
  • Heart disease / heart failure
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Dementia
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Pneumonia
  • Pressure ulcers
  • Aftercare following illness or surgery (e.g., joint, knee or hip replacement)


How does home health help? Learn more about the ways home health care can help people with these conditions.


Chapter 4

How to Get Home Health Care


Home health is typically covered by insurance if you meet eligibility requirements. For example, you’ll need to meet all of these requirements:

  • Be “homebound” (unable to leave home without help); and
  • Require intermittent/part-time skilled nursing care, speech therapy or physical therapy, or continue to need occupational therapy; and
  • Be under the care of a doctor who orders home health for you; and
  • Receive care from a Medicare-certified home health agency

The best way to get home health care is to ask your doctor about it. They’ll determine your eligibility and can place an order for home health care with Amedisys.

Another option is to contact your preferred home health agency. At Amedisys, we’ll coordinate with your doctor to find out if you’re eligible.

Home Health Eligibility Checklist

Doctor's order


  1. Patient needs supportive device/another person's help to leave home OR illness could worsen if leaves home
  2. Patient leaves home infrequently and only for a short time to do essential tasks
    • Medical Care
    • Haircut/beauty parlor
    • Religious services
    • Adult daycare
    • Family event like a wedding, family reunion, graduation or funeral

Intermittent skilled nursing/therapy needs

Medicare-certified home health agency


John's Story

John fell in the bathroom and needed hip surgery. He spent five days in the hospital and is ready to be discharged, but he hasn’t fully healed. In his discharge paperwork, John’s doctor includes information about being homebound and orders short-term skilled care. His doctor lists the services and equipment John will need. John is eligible for home health care.

Martha's Story

Martha visits her doctor for follow-up on a wound. Her doctor notes that she is homebound and orders daily wound care visits from a home health nurse for the week. The nurse will be at Martha’s house less than an hour per day. Martha’s care is “intermittent” and would likely be covered under Medicare.

Do you qualify for home health? Learn more about eligibility requirements and how to qualify for home health.


Chapter 5

Home Health Care Cost


Home health care is affordable. Medicare, Medicaid and many private insurance plans typically cover home health services for eligible patients when prescribed by a physician. If you’d like to receive home health care but you don’t meet eligibility requirements, private pay for home health may also be an option.

In addition to covering standard home health services, many insurance providers cover durable medical equipment (e.g., walker or wheelchair) and certain medical supplies, if required. These may incur an out-of-pocket cost (around 20%), depending on your insurance plan. A home health company like Amedisys can help you understand your coverage and any out-of-pocket costs.



Who pays for home health care? Does Medicare cover home health care? Does Medicaid pay for home health care?

Home health care is often covered by Medicare as well as Medicaid and some private insurance plans if you meet the eligibility requirements. Here are a few of the most common ways to pay for home health care:


If you’re over 65 and meet the home health eligibility requirements, Medicare typically covers home health services. In fact, Medicare is the largest payer of home health care. Medicare may also cover part-time or intermittent help with bathing, dressing and other daily tasks from a home health aide. However, an aide is only covered if a doctor orders those services in addition to skilled care to care for your injury or illness.

Medicare does not cover non-skilled personal home care services if that is the only type of care you need. Medicare Advantage plans might offer different coverage, so check with your plan provider.


Medicaid typically pays for home health care for those who are eligible. It covers the same services as Medicare. Medicaid may also cover cleaning, meal preparation, transportation, personal care and other help that Medicare does not cover. Check your state rules to find out the details of your Medicaid home health care coverage.

Private Insurance

If you don’t qualify for home health or would rather use private insurance, many insurers cover home health services. Most plans cover short-term skilled care, but not long-term care or personal home care services like housekeeping or errands. Coverage varies significantly from plan to plan. Review your policy to see what type of home health coverage your plan offers.

Does your insurance cover home health care? Get a side-by-side comparison of these and other home health coverage options.


Chapter 6

Where Can I Get Home Health Care?

The most common home health care setting is a patient’s private home. That could be a house, an apartment or a relative’s home. Being able to recover or manage an illness at home is convenient, affordable and comfortable.

A private home isn’t the only place people can receive home health care. Senior living communities and group homes are also considered a patient’s “home” for purposes of receiving home health care.


Where is Home Health Care Available?

Private Home

  • Safety and comfort of home
  • Regular visits from interdisciplinary home health team
  • Day-to-day care provided by family/caregiver
  • 24/7 crisis availability

Assisted Living / Senior Living

  • Covered if services are not already provided by the community under contract or state licensure
  • Communication between home health and assisted living
  • Smooth transition from hospital/facility into assisted living
  • Home health provides education self-care and healthy living
  • Home health can improve resident outcomes and family satisfaction
  • 24/7 crisis availability


Learn more about where you can (and can’t) get home health care services delivered.


Chapter 7

Understanding Your Health Care at Home Options: Is Home Health Care Right for You?

There are many options for seniors looking for help at home – so many options that it can be confusing trying to figure out what type of care you need. You might be wondering, “What’s the difference between home care and home health? Would I do best in a facility, or can I manage my condition at home?” Every type of care serves an important purpose. The key is finding the right care for your needs, at the right time.

We’ll explore several senior care options that may be available to you. Call us or talk with your doctor to find out if your preferred type of care would be appropriate for your needs.

  • Home Health Care vs. Home Care

    They sound similar and both provide care in the home, but there are important differences between home health and personal home care. For example:

    • Home health care is skilled care provided by licensed nurses and therapists. It includes mostly clinical and medical services. Personal home care is typically non-medical, non-skilled care provided by caregivers.
    • Home health care requires a doctor’s order and meets eligibility criteria. Personal home care does not.
    • If you meet eligibility requirements, home health care is typically covered by Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurance plans. Personal home care is typically private or cash pay, though long-term care insurance and Medicaid sometimes cover home care.

    Some home health companies use the terms "home care" and "home health care" interchangeably. Check to make sure you’re looking at the right services for your needs.

    With home care and home health, you don’t have to choose one or the other. Many older adults receive both at the same time. In fact, 80% of home health patients have a caregiver outside of the home health agency. This often is a spouse, child or other family member, but can also be a paid caregiver through home care.


    Learn more about the differences between home health care and home care.

  • Home Health Care vs. Hospice

    Both services can be provided at home, but there are major differences between hospice and home health care. For example:

    • Hospice is known as end-of-life care. It brings comfort and the best possible quality of life to people with a terminal illness who aren’t expected to live more than six months. The purpose of home health is different. Home health helps people recover from an illness, surgery or injury or manage one or more chronic conditions.
    • Both hospice and home health teams have nurses, social workers and aides. The rest of the team is different. Hospice teams include chaplains, bereavement counselors and volunteers. Home health teams have physical, speech and occupational therapists on staff.

    It is unusual to receive both hospice and home health at the same time. A person getting home health may have declining health and eventually transition into hospice care. On occasion, a person getting hospice may have an improvement in health and transition to home health.


    What is the difference between hospice and home health care? Learn about eligibility criteria and other differences.

  • Home Health Care vs. Skilled Nursing Facility

    Both provide skilled nursing services such as nursing care and speech, occupational and physical therapy. But there are a few important differences between home health and a skilled nursing facility:

    • With home health, nursing services are provided part-time, wherever you call home. With a skilled nursing facility, you pay to live at the facility with access to onsite medical care.
    • Skilled nursing facilities provide meal preparation and non-medical care in addition to skilled nursing care and therapy. Home health agencies do not provide meals and most other types of non-clinical care.

    Often, people stay in a skilled nursing facility for a short time while they’re transitioning from a hospital to their personal home. They may have had surgery or an acute illness and need intensive support for the first few days or weeks. Then after those first few days or weeks, they can return home with regular check-ins, monitoring and care from home health professionals.

  • Home Health Care vs. Assisted Living

    Assisted living facilities are apartment-like places you live in if you need more support than you can get at home, but less than a skilled nursing facility or nursing home. They offer a different type of support than home health care agencies. Seniors can often receive home health care in an assisted living facility, if they meet eligibility requirements. Here are a few key differences between home health and assisted living facilities:

    • Assisted living facilities typically provide non-medical care. They do not provide skilled nursing or therapy like home health companies do. Common offerings in assisted living include social activities, meals, housekeeping and laundry.
    • Assisted living has staff onsite around-the-clock in the event of an emergency. Home health programs provide regular visits and some offer 24/7 on-call availability, but they do not offer 24-hour supervision.

    Home health is typically covered by Medicare and other insurance. Assisted living is not covered by Medicare, though Medicaid and long-term insurance may cover some costs, depending on your state’s rules. Many people pay for assisted living out-of-pocket.

  • Home Health Care vs. Nursing Home

    Nursing homes are places seniors go to live if they need more support than home health care and assisted living can provide. There are many differences between home health care and a nursing home. Here are a few:

    • People typically live in nursing homes to receive round-the-clock support long-term. Home health care is typically provided on an intermittent or short-time basis at home.
    • Nursing homes provide help with meal preparation and daily tasks like bathing, grooming and medication monitoring. They do not typically have medical professionals on site to provide nursing care or therapy, whereas home health care does include those skilled services.

    Unless it’s also a skilled nursing facility, most nursing homes are defined as non-medical custodial care, which is not covered by Medicare. Most people pay with private insurance, Medicaid or out-of-pocket. Home health care is covered by Medicare, Medicaid and many insurance plans for eligible patients.


Chapter 8

How Home Health Works


The process of starting home health usually goes something like this:

  • Step 1: Doctor’s Order

    You visit your doctor, or you’re being discharged from a hospital or skilled nursing facility. You might ask about home health care, or your doctor may recognize a need for skilled care at home and determine you meet the eligibility requirements.

    Your doctor orders home health for you. They may recommend a particular home health care provider. Or they may provide a list of nearby programs, or encourage you to research on your own and find the best home health agency for your needs. You have the right to choose your home health company. It’s important to do your research and choose a high-quality provider like Amedisys.

  • Step 2: Consultation

    You’ll hear from an Amedisys home health specialist to schedule the first visit. During this visit, they’ll ask questions about your health and learn more about your schedule and needs. They’re required by law to keep your information confidential.

  • Step 3: Plan of Care

    Your home health care agency and physician set up a plan of care, which is a written plan that describes the care you’ll receive. Your plan of care should include:

    • The types of services you need
    • How often you need these services
    • Which professionals should be on your team
    • Any home medical equipment you’ll need
    • Any special foods you need
    • Your doctor’s goals for your treatment

    The services you receive and the frequency of your home health visits are based on your doctor’s orders. Your team will set up a schedule and work to make the visits convenient for you.

  • Step 4: Home Health Visits

    Once you start care, a team of home health professionals visits your home. Depending on your doctor’s orders, your team could include skilled home health care providers like a nurse, physical therapist, occupational therapist or speech therapist. It could also include specialists like a social worker or home health aide.

    Home health visits can last anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours, depending on your condition and the purpose of the visit. If an urgent need comes up, you can reach an Amedisys on-call home health specialist 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Your home health team will update your caregiver(s) and doctor regularly. They may adjust your care plan as your needs change, if approved by your doctor.


It depends on your needs and your doctor’s orders. You may only need one weekly visit from a nurse, for example. Or you might have several visits per week from a few different team members. For example, you might have a nurse visit one day, a physical therapist later in the week, and a home health aide once a week. Some patients could require daily visits for a period of time, depending on their needs.

Chapter 9

Benefits of Home Health Care

Millions of people receive home health care each year. For those who are eligible, home health is often a first choice because it allows them to live independently in the comfort of home. Thanks to advances in technology, many of the treatments you used to get in a hospital can now be provided at home. Some of the other benefits of home health care with Amedisys are:

  • Home health care is cost-effective, especially compared to nursing homes and other facilities.
  • Home health services can make daily life easier.
  • Home health can help you feel better, recover from illness or injury, and/or slow decline.
  • Home health care may delay or prevent the need for nursing home or facility care.
  • Monitoring and regular visits from home health professionals may help you stay out of the hospital.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services describes home health care as “less expensive, more convenient, and just as effective as care you get in a hospital or skilled nursing facility (SNF).”

What are some other benefits of home health care? Click here for other reasons people choose home health care.


Chapter 10

How to Choose a Home Health Provider

There are more than 12,000 home health agencies in the U.S. So, how do you choose a home health care provider that you can trust? Here are a few important questions to ask home health care agencies:

Do you provide high-quality home health? What are your patient satisfaction and quality scores?

A high-quality home health agency treats you with respect, provides superior care and gives you the best chance of getting the results you want. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services makes it easy to get quality home health. Visit its Care Compare website to get scores and compare providers. These scores are based on an objective assessment using large surveys.

99% of Amedisys home health care centers are rated 4+ Quality Stars.

Does your home health agency serve my area?

Most home health agencies provide care in a defined service area. Look for one that can come to your neighborhood.

Chapter 11

Myths About Home Health Care

There are several common myths about home health care. In addition to being inaccurate, these misconceptions can be dangerous if they keep people from getting the care they need. Here are a few home health care myths, along with the facts.

Myth: It’s risky to have home health professionals in my home.

FACT: Quality home health providers like Amedisys conduct thorough screenings and provide training to help ensure your safety. You can expect your home health team to quickly build rapport with you and get to know you. Many patients report feeling close bonds with their home health team within a couple of visits.

Myth: I already have a caregiver, so I don’t need home health care.

FACT: If you already have a caregiver, either a family member or a paid caregiver, you may be receiving help with housekeeping, cooking, transportation and related needs. Home health care offers a different type of support for homebound patients who have a need for skilled nursing or certain types of therapy. For example, nurses can provide wound care and other services. You can also receive speech, occupational or physical therapy. If you’re eligible for home health care, you can receive these services as ordered by your doctor in addition to having a caregiver.

Myth: Home health care isn’t affordable for most people.

FACT: Sometimes people confuse home health care with personal home care, which is often paid out-of-pocket. Home health care, by contrast, is typically covered by Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurance companies if you meet the eligibility requirements. This makes it a highly affordable option for in-home healthcare.

Myth: Patients must be bedbound to get home health care.

FACT: You do not have to be bedbound (unable to get out of bed) to qualify for home health care. You do have to be homebound, which means that you normally are unable to leave your home without assistance, and that, if you are able to leave for brief intervals, it requires a considerable and taxing effort.

Is home health care only for people who are very ill? Read more myths about home health care to find out.

Chapter 12

Home Health FAQs


It depends on your needs. You can receive home health care as long as you qualify and your doctor says you need it.



Yes, according to federal law, patients have the right to choose their healthcare provider. You can research home health companies on Medicare’s Care Compare website or ask for recommendations from friends, your church or senior center, or other people you trust.

Amedisys would be happy to answer questions and help you make the right choice for your needs. Similarly, if a hospital refers you to their hospital-owned home health program, you can choose that agency or a different one based on your research.



Yes, you can stop receiving home health at one agency and choose another one. First, you need to tell both agencies that you’re planning to make the switch.


Still have questions about home health care? Visit our home health FAQs.


Chapter 13

Home Health Care Testimonials:
What Do Patients Say About Home Health Care?

The greatest testament to the benefits of home health care are patients whose lives have been improved by their team of nurses, therapists, aides and social workers. We often receive letters and emails from patients thanking us for treating them like family, being there when they needed us, and helping them do the things they care about most. We also hear from caregivers who finally have peace of mind that their loved one is getting the care they need. Read our patient stories.

Chapter 14

More Home Health Resources

Want to know more about home health care? Here are a few reliable home health resources: – A reliable source of information about Medicare home health coverage, eligibility requirements and services

Home Health Compare – This website allows you to compare quality and patient satisfaction scores among Medicare-certified home health agencies, so you can choose a high-quality home health agency – Read about Medicaid home health eligibility and learn about your state’s coverage for home health care

Medicare and Home Health Care – A guide from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) with detailed information about Medicare’s home health care coverage and frequently asked questions

Eldercare Locator – This nationwide government service of the Administration on Aging can help you find a home health agency near you as well as other local support resources

National Institute on Aging – Part of the National Institutes of Health, the NIA is a trusted source of information on healthy aging, caregiving and more

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention – Research and statistics about home health care from the CDC

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