From the Director
Research Activities, December 2011, No. 376
Home health care is an area that literally hits home for almost everyone. Many of us face home care situations that would have been unthinkable even a decade ago. We're coping with family members with more complex, chronic conditions, who typically leave the hospital earlier, and thus require more intensive care. We're also dealing with medical technology and devices that most of us have not been trained to use.
Sophisticated medical technology is now an integral part of home care. Home caregivers regularly manage dialysis treatments, infuse strong medications via central lines, and use computer-based equipment to monitor the health of loved ones.
For example, a few years ago before my father died, he went to stay with my sister while my stepmother visited her daughter. My dad, who had several chronic conditions, including a respiratory illness, didn't arrive at my sister's home with only his medications. He also had an oxygen tank.
I had been trying to educate my siblings about my father's chronic illness, but they didn't listen. So I talked to a physician friend who said, "Don't call your sister until day two," which is what I did. What was she the most freaked out about? The oxygen tank.
Once my sister got the oxygen tank home and working, she was fine—and so was my father. But that initial encounter was pretty traumatic. Every family has a story about how they're dealing with health situations at home that they didn't expect.
At AHRQ, we're using human factors research on human strengths and limitations and the unique home environment to design systems, devices, and technology to make our homes safer, more effective places for health care—whether that home is an efficiency in inner-city Chicago or a ranch in rural Texas. We're looking into what's already happening in our homes and what home health care will be like in the future. How can we better use mobile apps? How can homes be designed with more health safety features such as grab bars, handrails, and better lighting? How can we better educate formal and informal caregivers?
From developing simple safety checklists to designing complex medical equipment that is easier to use, our ultimate goal is to make our homes safer and more effective places for care. After all, isn't home where we'd all prefer to be cared for?
Carolyn M. Clancy, M.D.