House calls, where a doctor arrives at your door with a black bag and stethoscope, are making a comeback.
Only this time, medical providers come equipped with portable X-ray machines, labs and even EKG machines.
“We’re bringing house calls back to medicine because we believe in high-quality patient-centered, convenient care,” says Dr. Paul Nanda, chief medical officer of Tampa General Hospital Urgent Care powered by Fast Track. “As medical providers, we want to provide a concierge service for our patients, convenient care when they need it most in the comfort of their own home.”
The hospital and its urgent care partner recently began offering house calls in South Tampa and Riverview, with plans to expand the service to other areas. A discounted fee of $149 is offered through Nov. 30; after that, the standard fee is $199 per visit.
The service provides treatments for cough, colds, sore throat, ear infections, eye problems, urinary tract infections, vomiting, rashes, fevers and sprains. Urgent Care at Home powered by Fast Track also provides medical testing and diagnostics for flu, strep, rapid RSV, urinalysis and more for anyone ages three months and older.
Tampa General Hospital’s move comes as startups threaten to disrupt the health care system across the nation with technology that allows physicians access to equipment and supplies that once bound them to offices.
Here’s how it typically works: patients can contact the services through an online app, the website or simply make a phone call. A staff member takes information about the person’s symptoms and determines if a house call is the appropriate method of treatment.
Anyone with an emergency is urged to call 9-1-1. Otherwise, the staff member schedules an appointment and sends the care team to the patient’s home. A mobile unit arrives with everything available at a traditional urgent care center.
DispatchHealth, a Denver-based company, offers in-home services in 10 markets across eight states. Florida is not one of those states, but according to its website, the company is “coming soon” to Tampa.
It accepts most forms of insurance and says those with private insurance plans can expect to pay about $50 per visit. For those without insurance, services are available for a flat fee of $275.
DispatchHealth spokeswoman Andrea Pearson confirmed that the company will begin offering services to Tampa in 2020 but did not provide further details.
She said the house call services are “ideal for seniors and people who have frequent needs for acute medical care” as well as for those “who think the emergency room is their only option.”
The new doctor’s offices on wheels are getting the attention of more than just potential patients. A four-year-old tech startup called Heal has raised more than $75 million in venture capital and is backed by celebrity investors such as Lionel Richie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Unlike Dispatch Health, which defines its role as an urgent care partner with established health care providers, Heal also provides preventive and primary care.
“It’s a concept for health care that is so simple, so cost-effective and so personal,” Richie told CNBC. “Patients love the individualized attention. Doctors love the fact they can practice medicine without all the administrative paperwork and expense of operating an office or clinic.”
Bush, who also sits on the Heal’s board, said the company, which now serves nine metro areas, told the network that he sees Heal eventually going national.
“There are managed-care companies interested in partnering with Heal, and doctors love it,” he said. “But scaling services in each market will take time.”
Even the federal government has gotten in on the act. A pilot project that was approved along with the Affordable Care Act incentivizes house calls for chronically ill Medicare patients in an attempt to keep them out of emergency rooms and lower health care costs.
The Independence at Home program reported a total savings of $24.7 million during the first three years, which included 10,000 patients in 15 locations.
According to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid, statistics from the fifth year in 2017 found that costs were reduced by an average of $2,711 per patient, about 8.4 percent below target expenditures.
In 2018, Congress extended the program until the end of 2020.
“Home-based primary care allows health care providers to spend more time with their patients, perform assessments in a patient’s home, and assume greater accountability for all aspects of the patient’s care,” according to Medicare officials.
“This focus on timely and appropriate care is designed to improve overall quality of care and quality of life for patients served while lowering health care costs by forestalling the need for care in institutional settings.”