CHICAGO — For millions of Americans, the luxury of being able to stay at home during the pandemic meant safety and peace of mind. It was easier to access medical advice when telehealth restrictions were eased. In-home medical care is now also increasing in popularity.
In the 1930s, 40% of doctor-patient interactions took place in homes.
But by 1980, it dropped to just 1% —replaced by hospital, office and urgent care systems.
“I think that there is a real craving for patients to try to achieve care and improve their health care outside of a hospital setting,” said Dr. Meeta Shah, an emergency physician at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
The rise of in-home healthcare, which has seen a resurgence in recent years, may be part of the solution to improving care.
“It’s a way for patients to really feel safe and they can heal in an environment that is their own. They can heal in their own beds,” said Jaclyn Henkhouse, vice president of clinical implementation at in-home care provider Dispatch Health.
This time there’s no doctor knocking at the door with a black medical case; instead, the bag has been replaced by high-tech mobile care units. These SUVs can be equipped with a wide range of medical treatment kits.
“An example of one of our cases stethoscope, otoscope ophthalmoscope syringes,” said Patrick Huynh a dispatch nurse practitioner.
Hyunh would go out with a technician to treat her. They could both treat complex injuries and illnesses at home together.
“We don’t treat life-threatening emergencies. You should definitely go to an emergency department for those. But, you know, we treat anywhere from an ear infection all the way to coughs to swelling,” said Hyunh.
Many health care systems believe in home care models, which could lower costs and keep non life-threatening emergencies out the emergency department.
“Some folks just don’t know any other option because the ED (emergency department) is the closest thing to their homes, and so, that’s what they know to do when they become ill,” said Shah.
Colorado-based Dispatch Health, poised to become the world’s largest in-home care system, now has mobile medical units operating in 40 markets across 18 states and earlier this year announced plans to expand to 100 markets.
“We have the ability to provide point of care lab testing as well,” said Hyunh, who now operates through a partnership between Dispatch Health and Rush out of Chicago.
Telehealth saw an increase in usage due to the pandemic that forced many to remain at home. Medicare waivers enabled dozens of states and territories to offer acute medical care to seniors at their homes.
“We kind of did a lot of that during COVID with telehealth,” said Shah. “We were coming into your homes virtually, and now, this is kind of an expansion beyond that to say, ‘Now, we can come into your homes actually with our team and our technology.’”
It’s something experts say can reduce hospitalizations and is a more affordable alternative to long-term care facilities.
“They’ll call in and we ask for your insurance when you first call in and we’ll run it through our system. If it isn’t covered by your insurance, you’ll be informed right away. We do offer self-pay option,” said Henkhouse.
A Dispatch Health visit will cost you roughly the same amount as a walk-in urgent medical visit. On average that’s between $5 and $50 depending on insurance coverage. They charge $275 flat fee for all treatments, medications, and lab tests without insurance.
The company says it’s already seen year-over-year growth between 100 and 200%.
The $460 million market for housecalls is expected to increase over the next decade. It’s a return of an old model, but modernized.