Could House Calls Reduce Hospital Admissions?

Receiving home healthcare these days can be as easy as ordering a pizza, notes Melinda Beck in a Wall Street Journal article. Entrepreneurial startups such as Heal in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Orange County, and Pager, which delivers healthcare providers via Uber in New York, have found a way to reduce the burden on the healthcare system by providing care at a time and place convenient for them.

Technology’s Role

Websites and apps make it possible to order a wide variety of goods and services. But only until recently could you count a home visit from a healthcare provider among them.

Mobile healthcare companies are popping up in a number of major cities and although each establishes its own rules of operation, they have one thing in common, technology. Technology plays a major role not only in accessing the service but in the offerings themselves. Portable medical technology, such as blood analyzers and handheld ultrasounds, enable these businesses to provide services previously only available in a physician’s office or lab.

What Services Can These Companies Provide?

Home healthcare delivery services offer much more than a quick examination of a patient. For an established flat fee, practitioners can provide services such as:

  • Analyzing blood
  • Taking throat swabs
  • Performing ultrasounds
  • Testing for cholesterol, blood sugar, BMI and blood pressure
  • Stitching or stapling wounds

Many Benefits

While some may see this as a concierge health service for the wealthy, people from all walks of life can benefit. Consider the 9 to 5 worker responsible for an aging parent who needs frequent medical attention. The travel, parking, and waiting room time for doctor visits can easily take half a day. Having a provider come to their residence at a predetermined time can give that worker his day back, decrease anxiety levels of both parties and eliminate the chance of contracting illnesses from those in the waiting room.

It has been suggested that should Medicare one day partner with these companies, patients with chronic conditions would be more likely to seek timely treatments, preventing conditions from worsening and decreasing hospital readmissions.

The healthcare system can also benefit via a reduced number of unnecessary ER visits. True North, a mobile healthcare provider that operates out of Colorado, sends a unit to accompany an ambulance when a 911 call is placed that the dispatcher deems to be non-acute. Once cleared by the paramedics, the patient has the option to be treated onsite by a nurse practitioner for a few hundred dollars or be taken by ambulance to the ER, which could cost thousands. This has led to fewer unnecessary ER visits, resulting in decreased waiting times for those in real need of emergency services, and savings of both time and money for the patients.

Insurance companies can benefit as well. Since these providers do not bill insurance, there are no instances of overbilling.

For healthcare providers, the service offers the opportunity to make money during off-hours and spend more time with patients. Home visits allow practitioners longer interactions than the scheduled 10-15 minutes for an office appointment. As a result, patients can receive much needed counseling as well as explanations as to how and when to take medications. This leads to increased medication adherence and decreased readmission rates.

Ensure Those Who Need Treatment Receive It

People who may not be inclined to seek treatment due to the hassle of seeing a doctor, especially those who travel extensively and have little free time, may forgo treatment or testing. This can result in serious yet preventable conditions. By being able to schedule visits at their home or office, it is more likely they will get the care they need.

Those who have trouble getting around and are dependent on others to take them to their appointments also may not seek immediate treatment, allowing their conditions to worsen.

Opposition and Concerns

Several concerns have been expressed by those who are in opposition to this type of service such as:

  • Appropriate coverage of malpractice insurance
  • Quality of care
  • Inability of these providers to have complete visibility into a patient’s medical records

Although many concerns have been addressed, there is a sense of uncertainty as to whether mobile healthcare will catch on and what types of issues it may face in the future. However, there has been interest in these businesses from venture-capital investment firms and hospital systems, which see value in this type of endeavor. This service has been shown to decrease unnecessary ER visits, make seeking treatment more convenient, and reduce the chance of becoming infected by others. All of which can lead to healthier patients and fewer hospital visits.

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