Alison Mintzer and her family were on a flight from New York to Los Angeles when her daughter complained that she felt sick. By the time they landed, Mintzer's normally uncomplaining 6-year-old said that her neck and ears hurt. When a fever soon followed, it was enough to convince her parents that she needed to see a doctor.
Thousands of miles from their pediatrician, and unable to find one quickly in L.A., Mintzer didn't know what to do. Then a family friend suggested an app called Heal that could use new technology to drum up a relic from the past: doctors who make house calls.
Once upon a time, a visit with the doctor meant welcoming one into your home, rather than heading out to a clinic or hospital waiting room. But around the 1960s, the house call fell out of favor as doctors' offices sought to become more efficient, and the doctor-patient relationship changed from "Marcus Welby" to something less personal with the rise of hospitals and modern insurance plans.
Now, however, the trend for on-demand service in the age of Uber could revive the house call. Services such as Heal — which launched in the District in June after operating in California since 2014 — and competitors such as Pager and Curbside Care are expanding their footprints across the country. And research suggests that house calls can provide a better standard of care for some patients than a hospital visit. A University of Southern California study of a house call program in the state found that hospitalization rates dropped for patients who were enrolled in the program for six months: Of 1,000 patients, 96 were hospitalized after being enrolled, down from 159 before the program.
Costs can also drop, since patients can avoid hospital visits. A 2013 Brookings Institution report said a Department of Veterans Affairs analysis of its home-based care program found a "25 percent reduction in hospital admissions, a 36 percent reduction in hospital days, and a 13 percent reduction in combined costs."