It wasn’t so long ago that doctors would visit the sick, and these house calls were a normal, if not an expected, type of service. The home visits offered those who were unable to make the trip to a doctor’s office the ability to have the visit take place in the comfort and privacy of their own home, while also limiting their exposure to potential pathogens in the waiting room. What originally accounted for roughly 40% of doctors’ medical visits in the 1930s occurs less than 0.6% of the time today.
During these home visits, it wasn’t out of the ordinary to have lunch or dinner with the visiting doctor. These individuals were treated as guests, and oftentimes during these visits, doctors were able to make a correlation of diet or environment to a patient’s illness. More importantly, it was a way for the patient and doctor to build a trusting foundation with one another. Records show that doctors made an average of roughly 30 to 40 house calls a day during the pre–Civil War era, and they accounted for a large number of visits for many years afterward.
With the modern era came changes to treatment and diagnosis options. With the advent of X-rays, MRIs, and blood tests, hospitals became a major focus for providing consistent care. Gradually, the shift from home-based visits to office-based ones with ties to medical treatment centers put an end to the home-based visit, and with it the personal touch that they provided. The home visit isn’t quite dead though; in fact, recently there has been a slight rise in doctors visiting patients in the comfort of their own homes. Two students from Temple University won third place in a national competition sponsored by the Association of American Medical Colleges. Contestants were asked to create a video envisioning the future of medicine.
Rather than show the future, these students looked to the past, and envisioned the future as a more personal and connected one, with doctors visiting patients once again in their homes, building a foundation of trust much like it had existed in decades prior. Testing would be done in the home, with data being fed back to laboratories for analysis. The additional upside to this is that these students also found that this type of home-based care would prove to be better at truly keeping a patient’s well-being in mind. With hospitals having more and more outbreaks of infection, it’s important, especially with older patients, to mitigate the potential for exposure.
Continuing on the path of making patient house calls, Uber co-founder Oscar Salazar saw an opportunity for improving health care by developing an app called Pager. Currently only being offered in Manhattan and Brooklyn, Pager offers patients the ability to have a doctor dispatched to their home or office. Ranging from parents to the business elite, the service has been well received, with plans on increasing availability, though no official timeline has been made known. Additional services, such as Doctor on Demand and Ringadoc, also provide a means for patients to reach out to physicians for care using various methods, such as phone, video chat, or text message.
With ever-increasing constraints on time, services such as these and many more offer patients additional options for treatment. By removing potential hurdles that patients often need to overcome, home visits will allow these patients the opportunity to seek out care in a familiar and convenient setting, their home. Utilizing the technology of today with the inter-personal care of yesterday, house calls may truly have a big part in future medical care.
- Cherfils M. Why French doctors still make house calls. Globalpost website. March 9, 2009. http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/france/090309/why-french-doctors-still-make-house-calls.
- Harris D. Pager, an Uber for doctor visits, confirms it will launch in Boston, four other cities. Boston Business Journal website. August 6, 2014. http://www.bizjournals.com/boston/blog/startups/2014/08/pager-an-uber-for-doctor-visits-confirms-it-will.html.
- Mitra A. Are housecalls making a comeback? Here & Now website. July 28, 2014. http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2014/07/28/doctor-house-calls.
- Schmidt C. Uber-inspired apps bring a doctor right to your door. CNN website. July 31,2014. http://www.cnn.com/2014/07/31/health/doctor-house-call-app/.