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Nurses caring for patients in a facility have the advantage of a controlled environment, predictable routines, and a team of clinicians working with them. Home health nurses working solo encounter far less predictable circumstances, including varied environments, situations, or schedules. Here are some tips to ensure success as a home health nurse in your community.

Top off the Fuel and Kick the Tires

Whether you drive your personal or company vehicle, keep the car well-maintained and fueled. Treat the half-full mark on the gas gauge as “empty”; don’t wait to look for gas when you’re on fumes in unfamiliar territory. Make sure all the tires are properly inflated, including the spare. Keep a flashlight in your car – you may need it one day. You’ll also want to keep handy some vehicle chargers for your phone and your point of care device. Nothing will throw your day into chaos like a DOA device that your daily documentation and communication depend on.

Take Stock of Supplies

Clinical supplies should be stored in containers that protect them from heat or moisture and kept in the trunk or hatch. It’s helpful to organize the supplies by purpose so that you can retrieve exactly what you need quickly. Keep track of your inventory and make note of what you use (and for whom) to alert you when it’s time to restock specific items, as well as ensure that the charge items can be applied to the proper patient’s account.

Safety First

It’s hard to fathom home health nursing before the advent of cellular phones. Home health requires a great deal of phone work such as calls to the home health office, physicians’ offices, pharmacies, colleagues, and of course, patients. And most of the call work occurs while you’re traveling between stops. Accepted wisdom recommends that we pull over to safely conduct phone calls in our vehicles, but that would make it impossible to get through the day in home health.

That’s why it’s smart to have a car phone cradle so that you can safely conduct hands-free calls. Nearly all smartphones have a voice assistant that makes calling without ever touching the phone a breeze. In addition, most late model cars are Bluetooth enabled, making hands-free calling even easier. 

Lunch on the Run

Even in home health, a lunch break can be a rarity, so many nurses carry a cooler in their car. They stock them with water or other beverages to stay hydrated throughout the day, along with their lunch and snacks as desired. Packing your own lunch prevents spending on drive-through fast foods and can provide healthier choices as well.

Planning Makes Perfect

Respect the time of your patients’ and their families – schedule visits no later than the evening prior to the date you’d like to see them. It can often be ineffective to call much sooner than that, as patients’ schedules and circumstances can change with little notice. Generally, scheduling visits on the afternoon or evening before works well.

Map out the next days’ visit route in an orderly fashion to prevent zig-zagging across town, wasting time and fuel. Whether you choose to start with the patient closest to you or the one furthest away, scheduling your visits in a logical sequence is the most time-efficient plan. 

Patients usually want to see their home care nurse first thing in the morning, which is physically impossible – no one can be everywhere at once. Do your best to accommodate the patients’ scheduling requests, but keep in mind you’ll have several patients to see in a workday. Try as you might, you won’t be able to satisfy everyone.

HIPAA Still Rules

Today, most home care agencies provide portable point of care devices on which clinicians submit their daily documentation. Maintain the privacy of all patients when using these devices in patient homes and in public spaces. Any paper documentation that you must carry with you should be kept in secure storage containers and not left loose in your vehicle.

Home health nursing can be very rewarding and can provide nurses with more variety and a flexible schedule. Keeping these pointers in mind can ensure safety and efficiency in daily practice.

Elizabeth Binsfield, BA, RN
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