Expert guide to the key questions you should ask when choosing a home care provider

Choosing a home care provider can be overwhelming. There are hundreds of companies to consider and the service can often feel like a commodity. Here’s how to vet home care providers and determine which one is the right fit for your situation.

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There are more than 1000 providers of home support in Australia. 

That is a staggering number, especially for those trying to choose home care providers for themselves or for their loved ones. 

A consumer-directed marketplace like this can be overwhelming, but it can also be empowering. Sure, there is a mountain of options to sift through, but that means you have the authority to choose a provider that is an ideal fit for you. 

Once you’re approved for a Home Care Package (HCP) or for Commonwealth Home Support Services, you’ll find yourself swimming in a seemingly endless sea of providers. So what’s your first move? 

There are three key components to consider while researching home care providers: their services, their quality and their costs. You’ll want to ask pertinent questions related to all those components, but before that, the best thing you can do is narrow down your options. 

It always helps to make a list, so let’s start there. 

Step 1: Make a (short) list

Before you can start asking providers questions, create a list of providers in your area that offer the services you need. 

The My Aged Care Find a Provider tool is a good way to do that. 

Every provider listed through My Aged Care is regulated by the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission. That means they are meeting a strict set of regulations and quality standards, which is why the Find a Provider tool is a trustworthy place to start searching.

Your search can be broad – at first based on location, services and availability – but eventually you’ll want to narrow it down and get more specific. Look for providers that meet your unique needs, be it culture, faith, background or other health requirements. 

Source: My Aged Care

The Find A Provider tool makes it easy to get as specific as you need. It also allows you to compare providers as you scroll through the list and select potential matches. 

Of course, My Aged Care isn’t the only place you can search.

It might also be helpful to seek advice from the people you trust. Perhaps your primary doctor has a few recommendations, or maybe your neighbour or a family member who has gone through this process with great success. It never hurts to ask around.

Just keep in mind that your needs could be very different from their needs. Selecting a home care provider is ultimately a deeply personal decision, so do your homework on any recommendations that come your way. Again, you can use My Aged Care to compare services and costs, and you can also review quality and safety standards to be completely certain that your top options are making the grade.

Once you have your (short) list of potential providers, it’s time to pick up the phone and ask some questions. 

Step 2: Ask providers the right questions

What differentiates your company from others?

What services do you provide?

What level of care can I receive? 

How much does it cost? 

Pretty much any question you ask will be an offshoot of one of those four core questions. We’ll drill down into the specifics in just a second. 

Before you actually pick up the phone, just know how important this step is: providers receive these sorts of calls every day, so don’t be shy. There is no such thing as a silly question; they recognise how meaningful this decision is for you, and if they don’t, then they probably aren’t a great choice to begin with. 

Ask yourself a few questions first: What’s most essential to you? Is your top priority stretching your package dollars as far as possible, or is scheduling and convenience more imperative? Write down a list (yes, another list) of questions you want to ask providers about their carers, processes, prices and anything else you need to know. 

Now you can pick up the phone. 

While calling the providers on your shortlist, ask the same questions of each one to help minimise any potential bias. If you have many questions, it’s valid to schedule a time in advance so you and the provider can work through your entire inquiry without being rushed. Either way, there is no need to fret about taking too long; ask all of your questions, take notes and don’t end the conversation until you’re satisfied. In a consumer-directed system, you have the power. 

And with that, it’s finally my turn to put together a list. Here is a non-exhaustive collection of questions you should consider asking while vetting home care providers: 

Questions about cost

  • What will my total package cost for the level and services I need?
  • What will my personal contribution be?
  • What administrative fees do you charge?
  • Will I be able to view itemised lists of all my charges?
  • Do you charge additional fees for carers to travel to my home?
  • What are the hourly rates for the specific service I need?
  • Do you charge exit fees if I decide to end my service with your company?

Questions about scheduling

  • Will the same carer visit me every time?
  • Do you guarantee carers will arrive at a specific time, or is there a broad window of time provided for their arrival? 
  • How far in advance do I need to discuss changes in my schedule?
  • Do you offer services overnight and on holidays? How difficult is it to schedule care in these scenarios?

Questions about quality

  • What is unique about your service? 
  • How long has your organisation been providing home care services? 
  • What are your main strengths as a provider, and what makes you different from other providers? 
  • Do you train and staff your own care workers, or do you subcontract to carers? 
  • How do you monitor and improve the quality of your staff?
  • What processes do you have in place if I am unsatisfied with my care?
  • Have you incurred any recent sanctions or notices of non-compliance? If so, how did you rectify those issues?
  • How do you gather and implement feedback from your clients? 
  • If necessary, am I able to switch carers or request a different one? Are there any costs or mandatory notice periods attached to such changes? 

Questions about special needs

  • Do you have carers who specialise in my particular condition? 
  • Do you have carers who speak my language?
  • Do you have carers who understand my culture and/or faith?

The questions above might not cover every last detail of your unique situation, but they’re certainly a good start to ensuring you know everything you need to know about potential home care providers. 

After you’ve chatted with all the options on your shortlist, it’s time for – you guessed it – one more list. 

It can be helpful to review your notes, compare responses and write down a list of things you liked and didn’t like about each provider, especially when it comes to the topics that matter most to you. But maybe that isn’t necessary; maybe you already feel confident based on the tone and quality of the conversations you’ve had. In that case, trust your gut.   

One last thing to keep in mind is that this decision is not final. 

Researching, sorting through, and selecting a home care provider is stressful enough, so don’t burden yourself with the extra weight—you can always transfer care providers if you change your mind. But if you do your homework and ask the right questions straight away, you’ll have the best chance of finding the right fit for you.

Do you have any other tips about finding a home care provider? Share them in the comments section below.

Also read: Downsizing simplified: Make downsizing a positive and fulfilling experience

Emily Gillett is co-founder and chief operating officer of The CareSide, a national home care service provider.  She has nearly 20 years of experience working in healthcare.

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