10 Must-Haves for Home Health Occupational Therapy
As I was talking with one of my OT coworker about her new position in home health, we quickly got on the subject of what every Home Health OT or COTA needs in their home health “toolbox.”
We came up with a few of the basics, but I felt like more could be added to the list.
I reached out to several Facebook Occupational Therapy groups and asked them, “What are your absolute must-haves when working as an OT or COTA in the home health setting?”
I got so many awesome responses from experienced home health therapists, and am excited to share them all with you.
Here are the top 10 recommended home health must-haves for occupational therapists!
1. Blood Pressure Cuff and Stethoscope
Along with a stethoscope and BP cuff, a quality pulse oximeter is also a must (and great for any adult-based setting) as you will likely be monitoring your patient’s heart rate, oxygen levels and blood pressure during your treatments. Often, your home health company will provide you with these. If not, you can find them on Amazon.
2. Tote Bag
Since you’ll be bringing all of your own therapy materials, make sure you have a good sized bag to carry it all! When you’re first starting out, you may be tempted to bring everything but the kitchen sink.
Try to only bring the bare necessities at first and be mindful of making sure your bag isn’t too heavy so you can practice safe body mechanics.
The great thing is that most homes have a lot of functional items already there (including many fine motor activities) for your use during treatments.
3. Hand Sanitizer/Soap, Non-Latex Gloves, and PDI Wipes
Working in people’s homes means working in environments that may be spotless or, more likely, may be much, much dirtier than you would expect.
It’s much better to play it safe and bring these items every time to ensure you’re protected from whatever may be lurking on surfaces.
Your patients may have just been discharged from the hospital or rehab with MRSA, C-diff, or something else that you don’t want to contract. Whether you’re aware of the infection or not, it’s best practice to wipe everything down after patient use. To make your life easier (and safer!), make sure everything you bring in can be wiped down with PDI wipes for your safety. Please note that the purple-top PDI wipes are not good for C-diff infections; you’ll want to have the orange-top PDI bleach wipes for that.
Stocking up on just these items can add up in price fast, so try to make sure you get as much as you can from your home health company. This way you won’t have to pay for them out of your own pocket.
4. Folding Step Stool
A small step stool is a great option for you to sit on, in case the home you visit has questionable seating surfaces. This folding stool from Amazon is low cost, lightweight, and can be easily wiped down after each visit.
A lot of home health therapists use a stool to place their tote bag on as well so it doesn’t touch the floor, but I’ve also heard of using wax paper or newspaper to place your bag on when you’re using the stool. (I promise not every home needs this much in the way of precautions, but you always want to play it safe!)
5. The Occupational Therapy Toolkit
The OT Toolkit is an awesome text resource for home health OTs and COTAs. It’s also great for pretty much every other adult setting, from acute care to outpatient.
One huge benefit is that it provides you with treatment ideas and handouts for your home health patients, without you having to endlessly search online. It includes topics like home exercise programs, ADL retraining and adaptive equipment, managing medication and MD appointments, energy conservation techniques, home exercise programs, and more.
The OT Toolkit pretty much covers almost any concern/topic of education you may have for your patient and their caregivers.
For more on why I love the OT Toolkit, you can check out my full review here.
6. Samples of Adaptive Equipment
Gone are the days when hospitals provided their patients with hip kits at no charge. Now we get to demonstrate the value of adaptive equipment and have the patient try it out before they buy.
If your companies don’t have any adaptive equipment for you, you can buy one hip kit on Amazon and use it as your sample for all of your patients.
The hip kit (found on Amazon) contains a reacher, dressing stick, long handled shoe horn, sock aid, and long handled sponge. The kits are great for so many varieties of patients that have decreased mobility and they usually love testing out and seeing the value of the sock aid and dressing stick during lower body dressing tasks.
You can also add a leg lifter to the kit for patients to try out that have trouble getting their legs in and out of bed.
7. Accordion Folder
Many therapists recommend an accordion folder to easily organize your notes, standardized tests and handouts for your patients. The accordion binder folds easily and protects your documents from crinkles and spills.
Along with home exercise handouts for your home health patients, Mandy Chamberlain from Seniors Flourish also recommends you add community resource sheets for your folder.
These can include lists of medical supply stores, oxygen vendors, transportation services, DME closets or rentals, Meals on Wheels, and Senior community centers/services/groups.
8. Therabands and Theraputty
Therabands and Theraputty are great strengtheners for your patients as needed. They’re also much lighter and easier to transport than weights.
You’ll want to bring the full range of resistances so you can grade the exercises up or down depending on the patient’s needs.
Many of the home health therapists that recommend Therabands and Theraputty say their home health companies provided these for the patients to keep at no extra cost.
If your company does not, you can purchase Therabands on Amazon but more than likely your company should provide them for you.
If your company doesn’t provide Theraputty, you can make your own instead of buying it to save some cash. Making it yourself could also be a good activity to do with your patient prior to administering it to them. Since it can’t really be sanitized, you’ll want to make a batch for each patient that needs it.
9. Gait Belt
You never know the amount of physical assist the patient may need, so having your own gait belt to use with each patient is essential for your safety.
If you have to buy your own, I recommend one that is vinyl coated so that it can be wiped down after each patient and can also be used in the shower.
10. Portable UBE
The UBE, or upper body ergometer, may be a controversial treatment option since it isn’t truly occupation based. Even so, it still can be a good tool for certain patients to increase activity tolerance, cardiovascular endurance, and arm strength/ROM that may not otherwise be possible to address otherwise in the home due to lack of equipment.
The UBE shown linked above is lightweight and easy to carry with you for those patients that would benefit from it.
And there you have the most recommended “must-haves” for home health occupational therapists and COTAs! I want to thank everyone so much for their contributions on this list!
I couldn’t have done it without the help of the awesome home health OTs and COTAs out there, and I hope any of you new to home health found this list useful. If I missed any crucial items, please let me know in the comments below and I can add it to the list.
This post was originally published on November 3, 2016 and updated on January 31, 2021.
Hi My OT Spot! I am an Occupational Therapist of 29 years, now going into Home Health for the first time. I am making a lateral transfer from Acute Care OT to Home Health starting next month! Even though I have many years of varied experience (Acute care, Acute Rehab, Sub Acute Rehab, Outpatient, and even a PACE Center), this is the first time I am venturing into a new arena. Although I know everything I have experienced and learned in all my years will be valuable, I really like the list you are recommending!! I kinda (from all my experience in Acute Care) thought about the need for a pulse ox, stethoscope, blood pressure cuff, PDI wipes, gait belt, hand sanitizer (in my car AND in my bag!) I really liked the idea about something as simple as a small step stool to put your bottom on, or the very least, your bag. Good Idea!! Did not think of that in consideration of what might be needed but yes, absolutely! I was also thinking about theraputty and theraband as well. Good ideas! I remember that book, The OT Toolkit but I do forget what was in it. I work for a large health care system and I know they are going to provide some of the above items, which I believe are essential. Wasn’t sure about the bag I would be using, though. But I just want to say that your list is very solid and thanks for posting!! I’m going to be keeping up with this blog as well!
You’re so welcome, Donna! I’m so glad the list was useful for you 🙂 Best of luck to you into your new journey into home health!
Donna : you will love Home Health! Im 68 and don’t want to stop working in home health! As an OT you see the reality of people’s lives and what is most important to them . I feel so blessed to be allowed into their homes! Your 29 years of experience will make you an excellent therapist in home health.
I have been in OT now for 45 years . Hospital based outpatient for about 30 of those years . I have about 6 years of experience in home health . I like to use a wheeled cart . I line it with a garbage bag to keep it clean inside and critter and fur free . I used a piece of heavy cardboard to divide it in half so I can use the clean bag technique : one clean side for goniometer, BP cuff, pulse ox, , grasp measurer, a ruler for functional reach test and supplies from the laundry basket of “stuff “ I keep in the trunk . On the dirty sIde I have my hand soap , paper towels purple top cleaning wipes, shoe covers, gloves , cpr interface,, etc
In the trunk laundry basket, I keep a button hook, reacher , the usual OT pegs and cups for stacking , clothespins, books of word searches, kaleidoscope coloring book, etc and I can sit on my cart if I keep my weight down !
For my calendar book I have a key locking folder for HIPPA stuff . I like the vinyl gait belt if the patient doesn’t have their own .
If there are bugs , stairs at entry or filth in the home , I have an agency issued bag I keep on my shoulder or use my pockets. There are great ideas at this myotspot!
Thank you so much for sharing your home health tips!
Nice! I am a Home Care OT for 20 plus years…Good advice.
Thank you for the list. I had most to restart home health but was glad to see the recommendation on books.
For better body ergonomics, use a wheeled cart instead of a shoulder bag. It will help prevent potential future neck and back problems.
Hi! I am an OT who is starting home care for the first time after working for a SNF for 7 years. I am excited to try this discipline of OT and love the helpful hints everyone has provided. Can someone send a picture of what a wheeled cart would like so I can find one on Amazon?
I’ve been a Home Health OT for about 16 years. The bag, stethoscope, thermometer, gloves, sanitizer, wipes, etc are typically provided by and required by the agency. Having a barrier to put your bag on so it’s not directly on the patient’s counter, table, sofa etc is also required. You’d get killed on an audit/survey without that and proper bag technique (using hand sanitizer before opening it, wiping down the stethoscope etc etc).
I agree with the other suggestions and have a few more. I actually have 2 bags, but that’s just what works for me. One small one with all my required stuff, easy to just have the necessities for a survey (I’m always the one picked lol). The other has my “eval stuff”. Dynamometer, ruler (for functional reach test), 9 hole peg test, goniometer. All good things to have on hand for good standardized testing. I like to give out a folder with things as a guideline for assistants for the POC at eval, particularly since PDGM started, so it also has a binder with a ton of home exercise programs and education sheets (most from the toolkit). That’s just a personal preference because it’s easier for me to flip through a bunch of HEP in clear page protectors than it is for me to dig through an accordion file. That bag also has little mesh side pockets that I can have some Thera-Band and theraputty if I want to go ahead and give that out on eval. That’s usually provided by the agency as well.
My car has kind of a trunk organizer box that I have a bunch of other stuff in. Hip kit stuff, toilet tissue aid, a UBE, some fine motor things, my company has a low vision program so I have a bag for that equipment if I need it, a few little feeding AE examples like weighted utensils, universal cuff, foam for built up hands etc. I have a bunch of punch ball balloons I give out for some exercises and pelvic floor training (gotta check for latex allergies though). Lots of fun stuff you think of over the years!
These are such helpful suggestions, thank you Jennifer!
Great suggestions, I am thinking of changing from SNF to Home health, I have 28 years experience and am just worried about the large territory I would be covering. Realistically, how many patients can you see in an 8 hour day?, most txs/evals would be in homes, not ALF’s? I am assuming I will have some left over documentation to do at home. Thanks so much!!!
It definitely varies from company to company as well as how much driving you have to do between patients, but a general average is about 5-7 patients per day. Again this could really vary so be sure to ask your home health company what their realistic requirements are. I wish you the best of luck with your transition!
Great suggestions from everyone truly helpful! I am a recent grad looking into home health. However, I have no home health experience and was wondering how does a home health evaluation generally look like? Are there any specific assessments one must do? Most of my experience is from outpatient and SNF. So I’m assuming MMT and ROM will definitely play a part in the eval.
Any advice is greatly appreciated! thank you!!
Hi Janessa! I am also a recent grad, my first OT role was in home health. For evaluations (and any visit), we always take vital signs first. Then I do MMT and ROM for relevant joints. I ask about prior level of function, and then ask them how they have been doing since returning home. And then typically ask them to perform a task in the home such as walking into the bathroom, toilet transfer, shower transfer, etc while I observe. For standardized tests I do Functional Home Assessment, Barthel Index (for almost every patient), and Functional Reach, 9-hole peg test as appropriate. I’ll also test sensation on hands for people who had CVA or other sensory issues. I also always ask them about their goal for therapy, and provide home safety recommendations at the eval. And of course there is paperwork to sign! Evals take me about 30-50 minutes in the home, and another 20-30 minutes to finish the documentation afterwards. Hope that helps 🙂
Hi! Thanks so much for this article, however, I am curious as to what a pediatric home health therapist keeps in their bag??
That’s a great question! If there are any pediatric OTs that can add to this, please let us know your must-haves 🙂
Im so thankful for finding all these great ideas and experience. I’ve been working in SNF for 24 years. I’m now transitioning to mobile OT outpatient. This information helped me to develop a starter kit. It’s a big change, but glad to know I’m not the only. Thanks again 🤗
You’re so welcome, I’m really glad this was helpful for you!