House calls were nearly obsolete by the end of the 20th century. But in recent years they seem to be making a comeback. Physicians revisiting this model report a few key benefits of house calls for patients and providers.
5 Benefits of the House Calls Revival
House calls reduce hospitalizations
One of the most compelling benefits of house calls is that they can lower costs for major payers like Medicare.
Analysis of Medicare data found that patients who receive at-home care require 9% fewer hospitalizations and 20% fewer emergency department visits. House calls also helped lower the Medicare population’s need for sub-speciality visits and skilled nursing care, in each case by roughly a quarter.
House calls can improve patient safety
Americans are aging and by 2030, 70 million U.S. citizens will be older than 65 years. Much of this population is also homebound. Over a third of people 75-85 years old report difficulty walking a block.
House calls give doctors a chance to check in on patients with less mobility and learn whether they’re taking their medication regularly, eating well and in a safe from risks for accidents or falls. As researchers write in the American Family Physician:
“House calls can provide a unique perspective on a patient’s life that is not available in an office visit or during hospitalization. A house call can foster the physician-patient relationship, and enhance the physician’s understanding of the patient’s environment and support systems.”
House calls save patients time
A recent study of visits by the house call provider Heal shows that it’s not just the elderly who benefit from house calls.
Researchers looked at data from over 13,000 patient visits through the app-based service to assess wait times, visit times, diagnoses, outcomes and patient satisfaction. The study found that Heal’s platform was used most in pediatrics and among young adults.
About 70% of patients reported requesting a house call for the sake of convenience. Another common reason was to receive services more rapidly. The average wait time for as-soon-as-possible house calls was about 1.5 hours.
Young adults and parents with small children are clearly realizing that one benefit of house calls is convenience. House calls avoid the hassle of scheduling an appointment for later in the week (or month), driving to an office and wasting time in the waiting room.
House calls can contribute to a profitable practice
It seems logical that doctors would make fewer house calls in an era when efficiency is paramount. Home-based primary care requires physicians to spend time driving and performing functions they can often delegate to office staff or nurses.
But in reality many physicians are running profitable practices seeing patients at home full or part time. Medicare provides higher reimbursement for home visits than it does for in-office encounters. And as we’ve seen with the rise of app-based house calls, many people will pay a premium to have the doctor come to them.
For most doctors, the additional revenue earned from a house call visit doesn’t necessarily compensate for the required travel time. But as a recent publication in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine emphasizes, house calls can lower overhead expenses substantially. The result is that home-based primary care is becoming a specialty, of sorts, within primary care.
House calls increase physician satisfaction
It’s important to emphasize that many doctors also prefer house calls. Amidst growing concerns about physician burnout, many physicians find house calls are a perfect antidote. As Janet O’Brien, MD shares, there are many challenges in delivering care in a traditional environment. Chief among those challenges is that doctors only get a few minutes with each patient.
As a house call physician, O’Brien regularly spends 45 minutes addressing patient concerns while also discussing lifestyle elements like diet and exercise. “This is the type of medical practice I like to do – to treat the whole patient, and do a comprehensive job.”