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Here’s an easy new way to compare home health agencies

Given the choice, most seniors who need help with care would prefer to remain at home rather than move to a nursing home. One way to avoid nursing home care is to hire help at home through a home health care agency. But how can you tell which is the best one to choose?

This just got a bit easier for Medicare recipients, who can now see the results of surveys of patients who have used various agencies’ services in the past. Findings from a national survey that asks patients about their experiences with Medicare-certified home health agencies are now available on Medicare’s Quality Care Finder website, www.medicare.gov/quality-care-finder.

The survey results, which will be updated every four months with new data, complement the clinical measures already available to help beneficiaries evaluate providers. The survey asks patients questions such as whether their home health team delivered care in a professional way and communicated well with them; whether it discussed medicines, pain, and home safety; and whether the patient would recommend the agency to friends and family.

Medicare says the survey results are designed to create incentives for home health agencies to improve quality of care, as well as to give patients additional information so they are aware of the types of care they will receive from a particular agency.

The initial survey results (which cover the period from October 2010 to September 2011) show that most patients give their agency high marks. For example, on a scale of 1 to 10, 84 percent of patients gave their agency a rating of 9 or 10, and 80 percent said they would “definitely recommend” the agency to friends.

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