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The History of Physician House Calls

history of physician house calls

Physician house calls made an impact in America throughout the 1930’s, and many doctors predict their comeback in modern medicine.

The history of physician house calls goes back to the 1930’s, when doctor home visits were very common.

It was a standard practice for a doctor or physician to go into a patient’s home if they were too sick or injured to seek medical attention outside the home.

In addition, these calls eliminated most healthcare costs of a standard doctor’s visit, as well as the need for reliable health insurance or patients having to travel long distances to see a doctor who wasn’t located in their area of residence.

Not only was this routine less costly, but it actually improved the health and well-being of many patients. It relieved the stress of waiting for a diagnosis. Thus, it kept people relatively healthier. It may have been old-fashioned, but it proved to be effective.

With the ever-evolving advancements in technology in today’s world, however, it’s easy to dismiss the practices that were used so long ago.

It’s perhaps even easier to claim that those methods were more effective. If that claim is to be made relevant in this day and age, it’s logical to first gain an understanding of the history of doctor home visits – and why they were so relied upon.

Should we wait for them to make a comeback?

What American Academy of Family Physicians has to say

According to American Academy of Family Physicians, an organization that offers quality health resources to families, house calls provided a clear and unique perspective of the patient’s surroundings and health issues. It gave the physician accurate information to provide a careful diagnosis and proper treatment options.

A statement on the organization’s website reads:

“Studies evaluating the effectiveness of house call programs for older adults have reached conflicting conclusions. One meta-analysis of 15 studies of care by specialized community nurses showed mortality benefit and reduction in long-term care admissions, but no decrease in hospitalizations.”

The website also says: “Common indications for house calls are management of acute or chronic illnesses, and palliative care. Medicare beneficiaries must meet specific criteria to be eligible for home health services.”

What is the situation like today?

Approximately 40% of doctor-to-patient visits occurred in the patient’s home in 1930 alone. By 1950, however, that number decreased by roughly 10%. Compare these statistics to those in 2008, and one will find that the demand for a doctor to make a house call almost diminished completely – falling to fewer than one call per week.

In 2009, however, numbers showed a renewed interest in house calls. This showed a jump from 1.4 million visits to 2.3 million and growing. The trend was largely due to demographic changes.

Many practitioners believe that by the year 2030, doctors will fully re-implicate this method of making house calls for the elderly as well as individuals with a disability. Some doctors are already considering trying it.


If the history of physician house calls indicates anything, perhaps it’s the need to re-evaluate the way we think about health – and bring back some of the old ideals that made a doctor a standard bearer in America in the 1930’s.

If we aren’t willing to put our health in another person’s hands, perhaps we should be proactive and learn how to take better care of ourselves.

We should figure out what works best for us as individuals and implement it into our daily lives. If we don’t at least do this, what is there to say about the current state of doctors and health care? Moreover, what about the way things were done in the 1930’s?

History may repeat itself and the old ways of medical treatment may be great – or they could be detrimental. The pendulum can sway either way as far as the government is concerned. However, no one should have to choose between losing a paycheck on a sick day, or going to work and getting everyone else sick.

When things are put in that perspective, is it really worth the risk? Are the old ways so much better that we should “turn back the clock”? Or does it simply boil down to fear of change?

It’s true that old ways can’t be changed. It’s also true that old ways may be so effective that they shouldn’t be changed. If they are changed, maybe some of those ways should be brought back.

Is it old-fashioned? Yes. However, there’s common ground. Doctor house calls are effective, even if they don’t cure every ailment.

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