Your Home Health Center

Topic Overview

More of your health care takes place in your home than anywhere else. Having the right tools, medicines, supplies, and information on hand will improve the quality of your self-care.

Self-care tools are the basic equipment of your home health center. Store all your self-care tools and supplies in a central location, such as a large drawer in the bedroom or family room. Use the lists of tools and supplies in this topic as checklists for keeping your home health center stocked. It's a good idea to keep all your family's medical records in one place, such as in your home health center. For information on organizing these records, see the topic Organizing Your Medical Records.

Be familiar with the disaster preparation and response plan for your area. Keep the appropriate supplies on hand. For more information on preparedness and recommended supplies, see the topic Terrorism and Other Public Health Threats.

Note:

If small children are around, keep your supplies out of reach or stored in containers or cabinets with childproof safety latches.

It's important to keep the name and phone number of your doctor and pharmacy handy. Also, post the poison control phone number (1-800-222-1222) in a place where all of your household members can easily find it.

Cold Pack

A cold pack is a plastic envelope filled with gel that remains flexible at very cold temperatures. Buy two cold packs, and keep them in the freezer. Use them for bumps, bruises, back sprains, turned ankles, sore joints, or any other health problem that calls for ice. A cold pack is more convenient than ice and may become the self-care tool you use the most.

You can make your own cold pack:

  • Mix 3 cups (710 mL) water and 1 cup (235 mL) rubbing alcohol in a freezer bag.
  • Seal the bag and place it in the freezer until slush forms.
  • Refreeze the bag when the slush melts.

A bag of frozen vegetables will also work as a cold pack.

Humidifier and Vaporizer

Humidifiers and vaporizers add moisture to the air, making it less drying to your mouth, throat, and nose. A humidifier blows cool to lukewarm mist into the air, and a vaporizer puts out hot steam.

The mist from a humidifier may be more comfortable to breathe than hot steam. But humidifiers are noisy, produce particles that may be irritating to some people, and need to be cleaned and disinfected regularly. Cleaning is especially important for people who have mold allergies.

A vaporizer's hot steam is germ-free and may feel good when you have a cold. But the hot water can burn anyone who overturns or gets too close to the device.

Medicine Spoon

Medicine spoons are transparent tubes with marks that show typical dosage amounts. A medicine spoon makes it easy to give the right dose of liquid medicine. While the spoons are convenient for anyone, they are particularly helpful for people who have young children. The tube shape and large lip get most of the medicine into a child's mouth without spilling. Use the measuring device that comes with the medicine, whenever possible.

For more information, see Nonprescription Medicines and Products and Quick Tips: Giving Over-the-Counter Medicines to Children.

Mirror

A handheld mirror or pocket mirror can come in handy for many uses. For example, you may want to use a mirror to help check your skin for growths or changes or to make it easier to see what you're doing when you use eye ointments or eyedrops.

Pillbox

A pillbox has lots of small compartments to organize your pills for each day of the week or month. A pillbox can help you or a caregiver keep track of which medicines you need to take. If it's the end of the day, and you see a pill in the compartment for that day, you likely forgot to take a dose.

Be sure to leave at least one pill in the original bottle. That way, if you forget what a pill is for, you can find it in the bottle it came from. A few medicines must be stored in their original containers so that they don't spoil. If your medicine label has this instruction, then don't use a pillbox for that medicine.

Store all medicines, vitamins, and supplements as directed. And keep them out of reach of children.

Otoscope

An otoscope is a flashlight with a special attachment for looking into the ear. With training, you can use an otoscope to help you decide if an ear infection is present. Inexpensive consumer-model otoscopes are available. But they do not put as much light into the ear canal and eardrum as the one your doctor uses. They can also be used as high-intensity penlights.

Thermometer

Digital electronic thermometers are accurate, easy to read, and durable. Temperature strips are very convenient and safe but are not as accurate as digital thermometers and should only be used to measure armpit (axillary) temperature. They are inaccurate when used on the forehead. Thermometers that measure the temperature in the ear are fast, easy to use, and quite accurate, but they are expensive.

Glass thermometers that contain mercury are no longer recommended because of safety concerns. If you have one in your home, consider replacing it with a digital thermometer. You can contact your local recycling center to see if they dispose of thermometers that contain mercury.

Rectal thermometers are helpful for children younger than 6 or anyone who cannot hold an oral thermometer in his or her mouth. For more information on how to take a temperature, see the topic Body Temperature.

References

Other Works Consulted

  • Brummel-Smith K, Dangiolo M (2009). Assistive technologies in the home. Clinics in Geriatric Medicine, 25(1): 61–77.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Last Revised August 13, 2012

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