How Can I Get References for Home Care Agencies Without Infringing Client Confidentiality?
Clearly, client and family privacy are paramount to quality, legal home care. But references from clients are one of the best ways to help you choose the best home care agency for your or your loved one’s care.
Obtaining real, trustworthy references for anything medically related can seem difficult. It’s hard to know what, who, or how to go about obtaining this information while still respecting client confidentiality and people’s privacy. On the other hand, choosing a home care agency is an incredibly important decision. It’s not something you want to do through trial and error.
So how can you respectfully research prospective home care agencies without overstepping or infringing on people’s rights to privacy?
Limits of State Licensure
While you can use your state’s website to check licensing and compliance, they are not likely to give you much information beyond that. This is, of course, valuable information, but it does little to speak to the personality of the organization and its delivery of services or quality of care other than the fact that they meet minimum licensing requirements. Besides that, navigating a state website and finding the information you want is often difficult.
States have different options and requirements for home care certification and licensure. Licensure is not required of private agencies in all states, either, which means that private agencies are difficult (or impossible) to find via state resources. Unless you are relying on Medicare or Medicaid to pay for caregivers, there may not be a vehicle via state regulatory boards for your agency to be licensed through. Note that this does not really reflect on the agency itself—they don’t have an option if it is not required of the state.
Individual employees and administrators may be required to hold a license with your state to practice in the field (depending on their position and responsibilities), but the agency may not.
In short, in terms of evaluating home care agencies as potential care providers, state resources may be of limited help.
Online reviews are a good place to start. You should not make them your only resource because they do have their limitations, too, but they are easily accessed and can begin building a picture of the agencies you are considering.
Some places to look for online home care agency reviews include:
- Online reviews sites like Yelp and Google Reviews,
- Social media pages and reviews
- Community websites and forums
- Community business associations like local Chamber of Commerce sites
- Better Business Bureau (BBB)
- Online listing services and directories
Understand that directories are often voluntary or include only those agencies the directory has thought or decided to include on their list. If they are not aware of an agency or have simply not come across it, they may not be there. That doesn’t mean the agency is not a good, quality provider, though; at least not necessarily. Some directories are paid for placement, too.
Online reviews have their own pros and cons. They also rely on people voluntarily leaving reviews. Not all clients—satisfied or otherwise—will have taken the time. Online is an easy place for angry people to voice vengeance and there is not always a good method of vetting reviewers. And so, while reviews are certainly worth researching, you’ll want to make this one part of your research and understand that the reviews may or may not be representative of the whole.
One of the biggest up sides to using online reviews and listings is that you do not have to worry about issues of privacy infringement. If a person has offered a public review online, it is there for all to see.
Word of Mouth
Word of mouth is still one of the best ways to find good services and providers. While online reviews and testimonials can be nameless and faceless, you know that your own circle of friends, family, and acquaintances are real, live people.
Don’t feel uncomfortable asking for word-of-mouth referrals. People will either feel comfortable giving them or they won’t. In most cases, people are happy to help if they can. If they loved their home care agency, they usually want to tell others about their experience; if they did not, they often want people to know that, too. When asking someone directly face-to-face, you can start by saying that they are free to not answer if it is too private an ask.
This is also an area where email or social media can be a help, because it removes the discomfort of putting someone directly on the spot. Cast a wide net and again, those who want to share, will. Those who do not can continue on and pass the post by.
Ask friends, neighbors, family members, social media friends and community groups. Follow prospective agencies on their social media accounts. See what they’re sharing, where their focus lies, get to know their personality; see what people are saying and how they are interacting with them. Don’t forget about community organizations like senior groups and senior centers, groups for people with chronic illnesses, or injury support groups.
Check on the websites of prospective agencies for testimonials and reviews. If you do not see any offered, contact the homecare provider and ask them if they have any testimonials on hand to offer.
Testimonials are collected, written statements of support that detail client experiences with the homecare company. It is true that these may be somewhat more hand-picked than online reviews, but a quality agency will often have real-life testimonials to present that can give you insight into the points of care that were most helpful or what clients and family found to be the most meaningful to them.
Just because the agency may be putting their best foot forward by selecting the testimonials that are presented does not mean that there is not value to be had there. You never know what aspects of care and management people will point out in a testimonial that you may not have realized was even important to you. If a client or family member felt compelled to provide the review, they must have had a good reason to do so.
Once again, testimonials are an easy way to access references without having to worry about issues of privacy and confidentiality.
Client references are slightly different than testimonials. Testimonials are typically written and kept on record or posted to agency websites, listings, or social media pages. They are the property of the agency and so they can decide which are selected and posted and which are not. You also can only glean the information that the testament writer thought to offer—what struck them as important and worthy of mention.
Client references are more like a reference you would give to a prospective employer. You are asking to be put in contact with a past or present client or family member who will offer their insight and opinion of the company, but who you also can ask questions of. The agency will have to be something of a go-between to connect you and the client, but after the connection is made, they should step back and let the conversation occur between only you and the reference.
You may feel unsure if it is appropriate to ask a home care agency for references because this obviously moves into the realm of patient confidentiality and privacy. This is not uncommon, though, and it is okay to ask a home care agency for a list of references. They will of course need to clear this with the client and family for purposes of confidentiality, but with proper permission a good agency should be able to provide you with three or more past or current clients who are willing to serve as a reference.
When speaking or communicating with a client reference, always respect their right to privacy and take what they offer. Respect them if there are questions they decline to answer. Respect that not all references will be comfortable meeting in person or speaking over the phone. Some may prefer an email exchange. As long as the client or family member is respected and contact information was given with their permission, this is a perfectly acceptable practice when looking for home care agencies.
In addition to client or family references, seek referrals and recommendations from professionals who might encounter home care providers. You can ask your own providers if they have recommendations, or you can ask the prospective agencies if they are able to provide names or references from colleagues like treating or referring physicians, facilities, and community leaders. Ask if they have ever been recognized, awarded, or consulted by such professionals or organizations. By doing so, you open the door for them to offer this information that might otherwise have been missed.
Some of the people you might ask include doctors, nurses, therapists such as physical therapists, occupational therapists, respiratory therapists, visiting nurses who may work for different organizations but who may come into professional contact with various agencies within the home setting. Others might include rehabilitation center staff, nurse case managers, social workers, hospital staff…anyone who interacts, intersects, and works collaboratively or parallel to home care agencies on a regular basis.
Ask for recommendations inside and outside of their organization’s affiliations and network so that you don’t just get the name of an agency that might be owned or associated with the facility. If you have specific agencies in mind on your short list, ask specifically about those providers.
This list provides you with several references and resources to help you find the right home care agency for you, your loved one, and your specific situation. The varied nature of the sources will help build a larger picture of the care and personality of the agency you are thinking about hiring.
All reference sources will have their pros and cons. We all know that there are people posting online reviews who are not always entirely truthful, hold a grudge, or are only presenting one side of the story. Everyone’s experience is different. Expectations differ, with differing degrees of realism. It’s important to give the agency some room and allowance for these types of things. In general, though, if you collect references, reviews, and testimonials from a variety of sources, they should align.
Look for that alignment in reviews, references, responses, and recommendations. If you receive glowing reports directly from the agency but this is not supported by at least some reviews or other outside recommendations, consider moving on to an agency whose referrals more closely line up. To be sure, an agency cannot control all that is out there and all that is said about them, but you should not see too stark a contrast between the information and references they give and the overall opinion of them elsewhere.
Look for Recent Activity and Updates
References and testimonials that have some age on them should not be ignored, but you should also find a progression of updates and continued good recommendation. Look for references and reviews that range from several years old up through current dates. This will tell you that not only does the provider have a history of good, quality care, but that they have a track record of ongoing experience and continued diligent service. After all, not all businesses that once were great continue to be.
Look for a timeline that shows reliability and performance. A mix of support over the life of the agency will help you know that you are working with a provider that has client care and success at the heart of its mission, and that they are committed to providing reputable, reliable care.
Private Home Care Services is happy to help prospective clients research their agency and will gladly connect clients and family members with references upon request. Reviews for our recommended Massachusetts home care and private duty nursing can be found on our Google review page. Please also join us and follow our page on Facebook and Instagram; and see what clients have to say there. And of course, feel free to contact PHCS for references and referrals.