Choosing a home health agency to care for your ailing mother or grandfather can be a challenge.
To ease that task, Medicare has begun issuing ratings - from one to five stars - to home health agencies based on quality of patient care. The quick summaries are based on far more detailed information the government has long collected and posts in searchable form at www.medicare.gov.
Nearly half of the 9,000 Medicare-certified home health agencies nationwide got average scores (three or 3.5 stars).
New Jersey and Pennsylvania each had among the highest proportions of agencies with above-average ratings and the lowest that were below average. Still, only one agency in Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester Counties was rated better than average. In Pennsylvania's four southeastern counties, 27 were.
But the markets are very different. There were 48 Medicare-certified agencies in all of New Jersey, including just seven in Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester Counties. Pennsylvania had 419 statewide, with 132 in the four southeastern counties.
And New Jersey agencies had fewer outliers on either end - no place got the top rating of five stars, and none received less than 2.5.
On the other hand, the government was able to rate all but 4 percent of the New Jersey facilities. In Pennsylvania, 34 percent went unrated because the number of patient interactions was too small to report, the provider did not give data, or the locations had been certified for less than six months. Even more lacked ratings in the southeast region.
Though the overall stars may help quickly narrow down agencies to consider, the meat is in the details - and these are presented in easy-to-understand formats on the website. It shows how each agency did on 29 quality measures - how often the home health team began patients' care in a timely manner, for example, and how often patients got better at walking or moving around - along with statewide and national comparisons.
Nine of those quality-of-care measures are used to calculate the overall star rating. Listed on the site but not included in the overall rating are patient survey results. By contrast, Medicare in the spring released star ratings of hospitals that were based entirely on patient surveys, generating controversy over whether they were meaningful.
Here are how home health agencies came out locally:
South Jersey. Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester Counties:
Total agencies: 7
Above average: 1
Best (4 stars): Kennedy University Hospital Inc. Home Health Care, Voorhees.
Southeastern Pennsylvania. Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia Counties:
Total agencies: 132
Above average: 27
Best (5 stars): Deer Meadows Home Health & Support Services L.L.C., Philadelphia; Expert Home Care, Feasterville; Gem Home Care Inc., Huntingdon Valley; Reliant Home Health Agency Inc., Folsom; Tri County Home Health, Pottstown.
Search for home health agencies at www.medicare.gov/homehealthcompare.