Home health aides and certified nursing assistants, or CNAs, play similar roles in the health care community. Both provide companionship and basic care to patients, while reporting back to the nurses and doctors overseeing the patients’ care. The primary difference lies in the level of training required and the type of care they can provide without supervision from a doctor or nurse.
Home Health Aide Duties
Home health aides provide basic personal care to patients, many of whom are elderly or disabled. They rarely provide any type of medical care, although some states allow them to administer medications or check a patient’s vital signs if supervised by a nurse or other licensed health care professional. They may also provide simple medical care such as changing dressings, and with additional training they can sometimes assist with equipment such as ventilators. Primarily, they assist with bathing, dressing and other hygiene needs, in addition to preparing meals and helping patients eat. They may perform light housekeeping duties such as laundry, in addition to grocery shopping and providing transportation.
Like home health aides, CNAs often help patients feed, bathe and dress themselves. They also help patients change positions while in bed and help them move from their beds to wheelchairs. In addition, they listen to patients’ health concerns, noting symptoms or changes in patients’ conditions in their charts. They also monitor patients’ vital signs and report this information to doctors or nurses. Some states allow CNAs to administer medication, and in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, CNAs often act as the primary caregivers and have more contact with patients than anyone else on staff, including nurses.
Most home health aides work in a patient’s home, though others work in group homes or care facilities. They also work for hospice providers and sometimes serve as companions for people with disabilities, helping them at home and at work and accompanying them during shopping, doctor appointments and other errands. Some work for home health care agencies and may visit several clients in a single day; others work independently and have just one client they care for for several months or years. CNAs, on the other hand, work in a wider variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and private homes. Because they work in a clinical setting, they often work with multiple patients every day.
Education and Training
There’s no formal training program or minimal education requirement for home health aides. As the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes, many have a high school diploma or GED, even though it’s not required. They usually receive on-the-job training from other health care professionals, including nurses and fellow home health aides. Some states, however, require formal education and background checks for home health aides. CNAs must complete a formal training program, offered by community colleges and vocational and technical schools, as well as by hospitals and other health care facilities. Prospective CNAs must learn basic principles of nursing care, complete several hours of supervised clinical experience and pass a state licensing exam.
Salary and Outlook
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects demand for both home health aides and CNAs to grow much faster than other occupations. As of May 2010, the median pay for home health aides was $20,560 and demand for these workers is expected to increase 69 percent through 2020. As of May 2010, the median annual wage for nursing aides, along with orderlies and attendants, was $24,010. The bureau expects demand for this group to increase 20 percent through 2012. Check it out at