Caring for patients directly in their homes is a unique way to practice nursing, and while it’s often easier and more comfortable for the patient, it does require a bit more effort for nurses. Not only are you using your medical skills and knowledge, but you’re also navigating unfamiliar environments, keeping inventory on supplies, and ensuring paperwork is completed.
To be a successful home health travel nurse, you need to be organized, flexible, and think on your feet. We checked in with several experienced home health travel nurses to get their tips for success, and here’s what they had to say about working with home health patients.
1. Get to know your patient personally
Learning more about your patients is a great way to connect with them and build trust. “Talk to them on a personal level while maintaining a professional relationship,” says home health nurse Angela Merryman. “If your patient feels like they know you, they trust you and look forward to your visit.”
Home health nurse Kelly Westermeyer agrees. “A good rapport is priceless,” she says, adding that patients often tell her more than she needs to know if she takes the time to chat.
Chloe Callicoat has been working as a home health nurse for 13 years, and as travel nurse in home health for about a year. She says a good way to connect with patients is to ask them about the area. “I get recommendations from patients for what’s close around that’s fun to do,” she says.
2. Be flexible
Working as a home health nurse can be a lot more unpredictable than working at a healthcare facility, and flexibility is key to making it through each shift.
Michelle Cooper describes a misperception a lot of people have about home health nursing, “They think, ‘Oh I’m just going to see six patients and then go home and I’m done.’ It’s not like that at all. If you’re on call, you’re going to get calls outside of 8-5. You’re going to be doing paperwork. You might get to a house, and they need 911, and you need to sit there and stay with them until 911 shows up, and then you’re an hour behind.”
Chloe agrees that flexibility is key. “Be willing to drive a bit for your patients if that’s what they need. We’re there to fill a need, and we need to be flexible within reason to facilitate what the facility needs in their nurses.”
3. Ask for help when you need it
Home health work can be challenging, especially for nurses who’ve previously worked in a hospital or clinic. You need to make sure you’re stocked up on necessarily supplies, have the required paperwork available, and are aware of issues that you might encounter with specific patients.
Throw in trying to find a patient’s house in a confusing neighborhood, and it can sometimes feel overwhelming. Kelly advises not to hesitate when asking for help. “Eventually, you’ll have a rough spot,” she says, adding she always takes the time to listen to fellow home health nurses who need assistance.
4. Set patient expectations
Setting expectations is essential for success when working with home health patients. For patients who haven’t been cared for at home in the past, knowing what kind of care to expect and who will treat them builds trust, which makes your job easier.
Michelle says that she always discusses consent, focus of care, and the patient’s options for services when she meets a new patient. “I try to be upfront that I won’t be back if I’m seeing someone out of my area, and that another nurse will come and see them,” she says.
5. Practice good communication skills
Clear communication goes along with setting expectations. It helps ensure patients understand what you’re doing, and how they should be caring for themselves in your absence. Ask questions to ensure they understand you — especially if they’re hard of hearing. If making decisions is difficult for them, asking yes or no questions can help ensure they’re comfortable with your actions.
Communication goes both ways, so don’t forget to actively listen too. Patients may not always directly tell you about new or ongoing issues, so listening carefully when they tell you how they’re doing can help you address their concerns.
6. Keep safety in mind
Whenever you go into a new environment, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings to keep yourself safe. Make sure you watch for steps or items on the floor when moving around the home. Don’t overexert yourself when trying to move a patient by yourself. Be aware if the environment is unhygienic or dangerous.
This extends to the area outside of your patient’s home as well. Make sure to lock your car and keep valuables out of sight. If you don’t feel safe in a certain neighborhood — or inside of a patient’s home — let your supervisor know and discuss the situation before continuing further.
7. Stay organized
There’s a lot to keep track of as a home health nurse. From healthcare supplies to paperwork, you’re a one-stop shop for your patients, and it pays to be organized. Having a good bag is essential, and make sure it’s stocked with everything you need: extra pens, a snack and water, information on who you need to visit, and copies of commonly-needed forms.