Doctor house calls saving families time, money

POSTED 10:00 PM, MAY 10, 2015, BY ALI MEYER

OKLAHOMA CITY — A growing number of Oklahomans are asking their primary care doctor to come to them.

The trend is particularly convenient for younger caretakers, who are often forced to take time off work to shuttle loved ones to doctors’ visits.

The so-called “sandwich generation” often bears the burden of caring for aging relatives.

According to Pew Research Center, nearly half (47 percent) of adults are caring for a relative 65-years-old or older. About one in seven (15 percent) provides financial support to both an aging parent and a child.

Pew Research Center: The Sandwich Generation Report

Caring for kids at home and aging parents leaves many mothers (ages 35 to 54) feeling more stressed than any other age group; 40 percent report feeling “extreme” stress.

Angie Martin cares for her mom, Dorothy Carter in Dorothy’s south Oklahoma City home.

Primary care physician Dr. Joe Witten stops in as needed, a minimum of twice a year.

Witten is on the go every day traveling around the state to see his patients in their own homes.

Carter moved into a nursing home last year, but never could adjust to institutionalized living, and she never liked paying for it either. Many nursing homes cost $4,000 a month or more, which is not covered by medicare.

Martin moved her mother back home where medicare pays for equipment, home health care, physical therapy, speech therapy and home doctor visits.

Instead of $4000 per month, they now pay about $400 per month.

“It’s a wonderful situation. It’s the best,” said Martin. “I promised my dad I would take care of her. This is the best; the very best I can do.”

Dr. Witten and the team at Physician Housecalls drive door-to-door treating patients.

The home-based primary care service currently treats about 200 patients.

“I get to know the patient better,” said Dr. Witten. “As I get to know the patient better, I get to recognize potential problems that they’re having. I just feel like it’s definitely making a difference in a lot of people’s lives. Not just the patient.”

Primary care physician house calls are covered by medicare for patients who are considered home-bound.

Thanks to increasing reimbursement rates, more and more primary care doctors are trying out this type of practice.

“Medicare has realized that seeing people in their homes, and paying a reasonable wage to do that, saves medicare money in the long run,” said Physician Housecalls owner Hank Ross.

For patients like Helen Joslin, 95, house calls are a huge savings. Her family used to have to take off work to get her to the doctor, or pay for an expensive medical transport.

“Now I can schedule an hour out of my day, instead of an entire day or a half day,” said Joslin’s granddaughter, Tandye Ryan. “So it’s a lot easier for us.”

Electronic medical records allow Dr. Witten to access to every bit of Joslin’s medical information on a lap top computer.

“Not only am I taking care of two kids who are busy with school and after school athletics, and a husband who is at home and busy, but we’re also taking care of our elderly adults right now,” said Ryan. “You have to make that time.”

There are actually about 67,000 patients in central Oklahoma eligible for home visits.

Many are considered home-bound, and will take an ambulance to the emergency room to see a doctor because they don’t have another way to be seen.

Those visits are often non-emergent. In fact, many patients struggle to be seen by a doctor simply to be eligible for a refill on a maintenance prescription medication.

“Those are people who get health care, but they get it in the most expensive care setting which is usually going to the emergency room,” Ross said.

Physician Housecalls is an old fashioned concept keeping patients out of the hospital and in their own home, potentially lowering health care costs for all health care consumers.

Keith Dobbs of the Coalition of Advocates for Responsible Elder Care (C.A.R.E.) calls the idea innovative.

“We’ve gone back to our roots. The idea of having a physician come to a resident and be able to look at them and touch them and hear them and ask questions and do some of those tests right there in their rooms. It just makes sense. It’s smart medicine.”

The Oklahoma Association of Health Care Providers believes the home-based model works.

It is smart medicine for a group of Americans which is are getting exponentially bigger each year.

In Oklahoma, there are a handful of doctors who will make house calls as part of their practice. Some take private pay insurance, many do not.

Consumers should check with their insurance carrier about coverage.

Medicare will pay for this type of care for patients who are considered home-bound.

Click here for more information about Physician Housecalls.