Your Home Health Center

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 Home 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.

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:

  • Put 1 pint (0.5 L) of rubbing alcohol and 3 pint (1.4 L) of water in a 1 gal (4 L), heavy-duty, plastic freezer bag.
  • Seal the bag, and then seal it in a second bag. Mark it "Cold pack: Do not eat," and place it in the freezer.

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. This 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. Buy one at your local pharmacy.

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.

Penlight

A penlight has a small, intense light that can be easily directed. It is useful for looking into the mouth or throat or examining the skin, and it is easier to handle than a flashlight.

Blood Pressure Cuff

If you have heart disease or high blood pressure, it's a good idea to have a blood pressure cuff to monitor your blood pressure regularly.

Blood pressure cuffs come in many models. If you have difficulty reading the gauge on a regular cuff, consider an electronic digital model. Ask your pharmacist to recommend a blood pressure kit and show you how to use it. For more information on how to take a blood pressure, see the topic Home Blood Pressure Monitoring.

Thermometer

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 electronic thermometer. You can contact your local recycling center to see if they dispose of thermometers that contain mercury.

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.

Rectal thermometers with enlarged bulbs 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.

Credits

Author Caroline Rea, RN, BS, MS
Editor Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN, MBA
Associate Editor Pat Truman, MATC
Primary Medical Reviewer Patrice Burgess, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Last Updated May 1, 2008

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