Are House Calls a Practice of the Past or the Future?

Date: 15 August 2012

Are house calls a practice of the past or the future? Well, it depends on who you ask.  An article in the Ottawa Citizen recently write that “Doctors’ house calls aimed at seniors poised to make a come back”.  However, the Times of India stated that “The number of doctors visiting patients’ homes is declining steadily. The Reader’s Digest agrees that “the centuries-old tradition of the house call is ailing and many experts believe it will die out altogether unless something is done.”

Prominent among those who welcome the return of house-calls are the elderly, many of whom have lost hope in the medical system and who don’t want to go to hospitals where they feel they will be prescribed unnecessary tests.

There are many benefits to reviving house calls:

  • The terminally ill or disabled have difficulty getting out of their home to commute
  • The care is more personalized and thorough
  • The practice renews trust in medical treatment and care
  • Helps avoid future visits to the emergency room
  • Less stress for patients and caregivers in organizing the trip to the doctor

However, there are also some disadvantages:

  • House calls are typically significantly more expensive
  • House calls are timely – the shortage of doctors and nurses in some regions would mean less time to see as many patients on a given day
  • The technology and tools used to conduct certain screenings and tests cannot be easily transported
  • Visits are often less structured outside of the office

The demand for home medical care is increasing, says the Times of India, and perhaps this is due in part to the global initiatives to age in place.  There are also new technology devices that allow people to be treated at home and be cared for without leaving their comfort.

Physicians in Australia observe that there has been a cultural shift in doctors wanting to spend more time at home with their families and for themselves as well.  For instance, Dr Tim Woodruff of the Doctors Reform Society of Australia says “Society has changed. I think people realize that doctors are people too and they’re not the only port of call, especially after hours.” 

Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at mount Sinai Hospital in Canada, is not losing hope.  He is among several doctors that continues to make house calls and is working with government to expand the house-calls program.

So are house calls one foot in or one foot out of the future of bedside practice?  Please share your thoughts with us.