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House Calls Are a Necessary Component of Healthcare for Our Aged Population

By: Valerie Tinley, MSN, RNFA,  FNP-BC

House calls have long been associated with primary care providers (PCPs), the proverbial “black bag,” and days gone by. Unfortunately, house calls are often just a memory or something we watch in reruns on the television.

Those people that best remember the prevalence of house calls, the elderly, may be the same population whose needs will bring house calls back from the brink of extinction and return them to the mix of services offered by PCPs.

House calls should be a core offering of PCPs, since by nature we help patients from cradle to grave. Therefore, some of these patients may not be able to come to see us because they are too old or too sick or immobile.

Why then can’t PCPs go to these patients? We certainly can solve the majority of primary care problems where our patients want or need to be seen, including in their homes, whether these problems are run of the mill day-to-day issues; or those associated with chronic, continuous care diseases; or even many urgent care issues.

Unfortunately house calls are rarely offered because many PCPs view them as too time consuming and therefore too costly to conduct.

The need for house calls for these populations will not go away.   The populations that house calls can help include:
•    those that are bed bound, very old, who want to age at home rather than a nursing home;
•    those suffering from dementia;
•    those recently discharged from the hospital, and unable to be mobile short term or long term; and
•    those that are receiving hospice care.

Many of these people cannot leave their home, or more importantly, should not leave the home, to go to the doctor’s office for an office visit.  It is important to understand how very expensive this is for the caregiver, in terms of time, lost hours on the job, effort and transportation costs, all to actually get them to the medical provider’s office, because their loved ones have problems with mobility or other hindrances.

The result? There are many in need of medical care that cannot receive it. This increases medical problems and mortality. When healthcare is ignored or foregone for the most routine of problems, more expensive and much more serious healthcare issues arise in its place.

A recent article in the New York Times reported that keeping geriatric patients out of the hospital and getting them the care the need at home can result in a cost savings of between 30% and 60%. In addition, a house call program, piloted by Duke University, has reduced the number of hospital admissions for those patients unable to get to the doctors office by 68% and the number of emergency room admissions by 41%.  These patients are thereby healthier, and even safer, working with a PCP that makes house calls.

Several organizations currently offer house calls as a core part of their services offerings, like Urban Medical in Boston, or the practice I am with, doctokr Family Medicine. Also there are beginnings of pilot programs for house calls, like the one at Duke’s Medical School which was mentioned earlier.

But these are only a few providers, and the movement needs to be widespread. Our aged population needs it and we as primary care providers should be listening to their needs and providing for these needs. Otherwise, we are falling short.

Until next week, I remain yours in primary care,

Valerie Tinley MSN, RNFA,  FNP-BC

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