Vol. 21 •Issue 14 • Page 9
Essential Skills to Transition to Home Care
When a respiratory therapist begins working in home care, it requires a radically different set of skills. Most respiratory programs’ curricula don’t adequately prepare RTs for independent practice in the home.
Unlike an acute care setting, a home does not offer the benefits of piped-in oxygen, advanced technology or collaboration with team members. The home, however, represents the most preferred level of care, based on patient perceptions.
That means more people transition home sooner and sicker now, representing a serious challenge for RTs charged with ensuring a safe and optimal environment exists in the home.
“RTs must be able to think on their feet and draw from all their clinical knowledge to ensure optimal patient outcomes,” said Kelly Garber, CRT. “This helps patients remain in the most desired level of care for them—their homes.”
Other differences separate acute and home care. Traditional departments provide in-service education for RTs to obtain continuing education units (CEUs). It’s relatively simple to maintain licensure, learn about advances in technology and therapies and stay abreast of trends.
In home care, RTs must attend state society meetings or the American Association for Respiratory Care’s annual conference to obtain CEUs, said Garber, national director of respiratory services for Apria Healthcare in Lake Forest, Calif.
Constant interaction with physicians who are experts in pulmonary medicine helps boost acute therapists’ knowledge. The home care environment does not allow such contact. Instead, the majority of their connections with physicians are related to the RTs’ unique knowledge of what will work best for the patient in the home.
That means these RTs must actively research new medical devices in order to identify their applications and benefit. They also should familiarize themselves with a variety of equipment uncommon in acute care, including oxygen concentrators, portable mechanical and non-invasive ventilators, portable nebulizers and continuous positive airway pressure devices.
Research and Networking
So you want to make the giant leap into home care?
Start by learning about regulatory requirements, national patient safety goals related to the Joint Commission and the complexities of reimbursement from government and private payers.
Hone your customer service skills and sales acumen, since home care is highly competitive. Be prepared to deal with social issues related to family dynamics that could impact patient care in the home and identify community resources to augment the plan of care.
Sharpen presentation skills that will be essential to marketing services to physicians, managed care organizations and those responsible for making referrals to home care organizations.
Spend time networking with colleagues to address issues affecting the industry. RTs also must be active in the profession and engage one another to support a collective commitment to excellence and equip themselves to deal with new challenges.
Home care represents a significant opportunity for RTs to thrive and expand into non-traditional roles. Still, preparation is the key to a viable transition.
“Staying informed is the best way to ensure the success,” Garber concluded. “Collaborating with colleagues is a requirement for all home care RTs if we are to continue to meet the needs of our patients.”
Vernon R. Pertelle, MBA, RRT, is senior director/assistant vice president for Tri-City Healthcare District, Home Care, Hospice, Occupational Health and Wellness, and Rehabilitation Services, Center for Wound Care and Hyperbaric Medicine, Oceanside, Calif. He can be reached at [email protected].