Home Health vs. Home Care: What’s the Difference?

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Healthcare professional looking out the window with a resident with smiles on their faces

If you think home health and home care are the same thing, you’re not alone. The terms are incredibly similar, and many people use them interchangeably. However, there are some important differences between the two services.

What Is Home Health

Home health care is medical care. Also known as skilled care, home health care refers to care provided by a licensed medical professional. Home health care services include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Skilled nursing services, such as wound care, catheter and colostomy care, and diabetes care
  • Social work, such as case management, patient advocacy, counseling, and help finding community resources

Home health aides are also referred to as nurse aides, nursing assistants, certified nursing assistants, and geriatric aides.

What Is Home Care

Home care is nonmedical care. Also known as private services, home care refers to care provided by caregivers, usually called home care aides, that focuses on helping seniors with the daily activities they need to engage in life and remain safe and healthy. Home care services include:

  • Companion care
  • Personal care
  • Transportation services
  • Memory care services

Home care is also referred to as personal care, attendant care, non-medical care, and companion care. 

When to Use Home Health

Home health care is often prescribed to help older adults recover from a serious health issue. For example, if your dad has a hip replacement surgery, a therapist might visit him at home every morning to provide physical therapy, monitor his pain and medications, and track his vitals and recovery progress.

Home health is often recommended following an inpatient hospitalization, rehabilitation, or a stay at a skilled nursing facility to help a senior transition back to independence. Other times when home health is beneficial might include when a senior has had a recent medication change or when a senior experiences an overall decline in functioning.

Because home health is considered medical care, it is covered by medical insurance, including Medicare and Medicaid.

When to Use Home Care

Home care is used primarily to help older adults with the activities of daily living. For example, if your mom is functioning well at home but vision problems prevent her from driving and she sometimes forgets her medications, a home care aide might visit the house every afternoon to drive her to appointments, help her balance her checkbook, and offer medication reminders.

Home care is often recommended for seniors who need assistance with the activities of daily living ranging from grooming to meal preparation. Other times when home care is beneficial might include when a senior doesn’t drive but requires transportation or when a senior lives alone and may be at risk for social isolation.

Because home care is considered unskilled or nonclinical, it isn’t covered by medical insurance and is usually covered by private pay or long-term care insurance.

When to Use a Combination of Care Services

The main goal of both services is to provide personalized care that keeps seniors as independent, safe, and comfortable as possible so they can maintain a high quality of life. Home health and home care often work together to help seniors.

For example, a home care aide might help your mom remember to take daily medications while a home health nurse might adjust or change her medications as needed. Or perhaps a home health physical therapist can work with your dad’s doctor to adjust his physical therapy if it’s not working while a home care aide might encourage your dad to do their physical therapy, watch for problems, and let the PT know how the daily exercises are going.

Often, seniors and their families find a team approach of using home care services to supplement home health services provides the best solution.

Where to Use Home Health and Home Care Services

Although home health and home care are primarily provided in a residential home, caregivers can also provide assistance to seniors wherever they call home, including in assisted living facilities, in hospitals, on vacation, or in a variety of other settings.  

Home Health vs. Home Care Comparison Chart

The chart below highlights some of the key differences between home health and home care.

Services Typically Offered

Home Health

Home Care

Skilled care

Yes

No

Therapy toward rehabilitation

Yes

No

Administers medications

Yes

No

Changes or adjusts medications as needed

Yes

No

Gives medication reminders

Yes

Yes

Performs medical tests

Yes

No

Performs wound care

Yes

No

Formally monitors health status

Yes

No

Helps with activities of daily living

Yes

Yes

Offers overnight supervision

No

Yes

Prepares and/or delivers meals

No

Yes

Performs light housekeeping

No

Yes

Helps with personal grooming and hygiene

No

Yes

Helps with transferring

No

Yes

Helps with toileting or incontinence

No

Yes

Provides transportation

No

Yes

Provides companionship

No

Yes

Provides respite care

No

Yes

For an in-depth look at the home health and home care options available, signs your loved one needs additional help or support at home, how home health and home care professionals are trained and licensed, and how to pay for home health and home care services, download our Guide to Home Health & Home Care Services.

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