I am a social worker.
I have worked in community health care for the past 16 years. I have made at least 2,000 visits to people in their homes. Most of these people are aged 65 and over. The first ten years of visiting was as a Home Care Case Coordinator and the last six have been as a Geriatric Mental Health Clinician. Most of my visits are one-time only visits, and it is to conduct in-home assessments of an individual. On occasion there are follow-up or reassessment visits. I am also doing private counselling and I meet people wherever works for them.
My experiences of these home visits has lead me formulate “best practices.”
I have never actually written down what works for me in terms of home visits. I was never really trained in this, it's just something I have developed over the years. My workplace has had a few rules implemented, so these have also become part of my daily practice. The goal of these best practices is to conduct a safe and successful experience for not only myself but also for the people I have to meet with.
Some of these best practices come as a result of trial and error and I know I probably have some more things to learn.
I have come up with a list of 19 “best practices” and procedures that always (most of the time, anyways!) results in a positive experience.Generally speaking, these are my tried and true professional approaches to ensuring a safe and successful visit. I hope they can offer you some tips to make your home visits more productive and positive.
Things to bring or have on hand:
- Client file/forms
- Cell phone
- Water bottle
- Hand sanitizer
- Booklets and resources
- Lined paper
- Business cards
- Clip board
- Indoor shoes
- Booties (for bedbugs)
- Extra pens and pencils
- Compassion, smiles and compliments
After you have determined the request is appropriate and is within your catchment area, here are some tips to take note of.
Is there anything on the referral or consult that indicates the person does not speak a language you are fluent it? For example, if it says the person speaks Mandarin, do you know Mandarin? Or do you need to enlist an interpreter? Sometimes family members are able to help out and are very used to doing this. For more serious or complicated situations, you may want to obtain the services from an official interpreter.
The referral source should indicate if you should call the client him or herself, or if it’s better to call a family member. Preferably it would be someone that is already very involved in the person’s care and one that is trusted by the client. If there is no indication of such person, call the client direct and then find out if he/she would like you to call or involve any other family member. Most older people have one or two family members who are involved in their care and would prefer to have their loved one involved in the assessment. On occasion, there are people who prefer to not have anyone else involved, and this has to be honoured as well. Privacy issues must be respected at all times.
Sometimes people do not agree with the need for assessment. They may agree initially, but then change their mind. For example, a person in hospital may agree to a home visit just so they can get out of the hospital. Perhaps the person’s doctor mentioned he/she was going to send a referral and the client forgets about it. They say yes to a daughter who is nagging them to agree just to get her to be quiet. One of the biggest hurdles for me is to explain in a simple and favourable way who referred me, why, what I do and what I hope to do for them. If they refuse the visit, it’s important to report this back to the referral source (the doctor for example) and to help problem solve how to get the visit done. Sometimes it means involving a family member or the referral source may have to encourage the visit. However, if the person does not want you to come, don’t go. I have been in situations where the family member really, really wants me to come to the home to do the assessment, but when I arrive, the person does not want me there. I was actually physically pushed out the door once! My services are voluntary, so I explain this fact to the person. I advise that I will leave if I am not wanted, however, their doctor, Home Care Case Coordinator, etc. wanted this in order to provide the best care possible. I make sure I talk to the client on the phone before I go if at all possible.
There have been times when the person moves or the address on the referral form is incorrect. This saves a lot of grief in the end. Sometimes I ask about parking if I am unfamiliar with the area. If the person lives in a secured building, I ask if there is a special code to buzz when I arrive and I write it down.
If no one has been to the home before, and there are no previous records, I ask about smoke and pets. If the person or someone in the household smokes, I ask if they could refrain from smoking while I am there as second-hand smoke has been proven to be harmful. If there are any pets in the home, I ask if the pet could be put into another room while I am there so there are no issues with allergies, jumping up, biting, etc.
If there are bedbugs, or have been bedbugs, find out what stage of treatment they are in. To be safe, take as little as possible into the home. Don’t put anything down on the floor. Keep your jacket on. Watch where you sit. Avoid couches and fabric chairs. Remain standing if you can. You can also wear protective gear like little disposable blue booties that go over your shoes if you need to. One time I met with a woman outside of her apartment suite, and I witnessed a bedbug crawling on her shirt. I made the visit as quick as possible.
I ask if he/she would prefer a morning or afternoon appointment. Research I have read states mornings are a better time for most older people, after they have had a good sleep. This is when they are functioning at their best. Afternoons are often nap time and this wouldn’t be a good time to do a cognitive assessment or ask questions that require a lot of brainpower.
When I initially book the appointment, it is usually for a few days or a week ahead. I offer to give him/her my phone number and I also tell the person I always call before I leave to confirm our appointment. The problem of “no-shows” is easily solved by using this simple technique. Sometimes people forget about the meeting, or they conveniently have something else come up so they have to cancel. It is very rare that the person cancels on me, but sometimes the visit is delayed because of something that held them up.
This is a great tool to have. If the person doesn’t answer the door you can call them on the phone. Some people can’t hear you knocking for example, or they have their TV up loud. A cell phone also offers safety. I have also used the cell phone to call the person to say I was caught up in traffic. Once I had to cancel my visit enroute because it was raining so hard the streets were flooding!
This is a sign of respect. After I have introduced myself, and confirm I am in the right place at the right time, I put on my indoor shoes.
This offers me the most comfortable seating arrangement, and I can write down things easily enough. I make sure I have a clipboard with me in case I don’t have access to a table. This is also handy when my client has to do cognitive testing and they are sitting in a chair or on a couch.
This helps me determine how close to sit and on what side.
I never know when my pen will run out. I have been in a situation where I didn’t have any scrap paper with me for writing notes and I had to ask the client for a piece of paper. That is embarrassing.
I had a situation in the past where I spilled a cup of water. Now I always carry my own water bottle, and keep the lid closed. No more spills for me.
People tend to like it when you can leave reading material for them to look at after you are gone.
I explain next steps so they know what to expect. I make sure I have left my business card and encourage them to call me if anything comes up.
I also thank the client and family member for their time.
For example, I might say, “You have a beautiful family” or “We are going to get you some help.” I may compliment his/her environment, such as, “You have a beautiful home, there is so much light,” “Look at the view!” or “I love the artwork.” If there are family photos around the home, I ask “Who is in this picture?” The person usually lights up and it makes them feel good. I may also ask about framed awards and certificates, as these are hung up on the wall because they are important to the person.
I always have hand anti-bacterial hand sanitizer in my car, so I make sure I sanitize my hands before and after each visit (preferably I would be washing with soap and water). I don’t want to transfer any germs from one person to the next. I shake hands with people so I want to ensure cleanliness.
Do you have any best practices or other tips for home visits you would like to share? Any comments or questions on what you have read here? Please do so in the comments below.
Angela G. Gentile, MSW, RSW