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Evaluating physicians who offer house calls:
a guide for patients and families

by Eric Baron, MD

Physicians and Medical Groups specializing in house calls have become available to geriatric patients. This increase in your Medicare benefits was a result of four years of volunteer effort led by the American Academy of Home Care Medicine.

If you are unable to visit your own physician, house call physicians who come to your home provide consultations to your doctor or serve as your private doctor. Because of changes in medical technology, a physician can come to your home with portable medical equipment and provide high-quality medical care.

High-quality medical care is a result of good physicians who are well-supervised. This article will teach you how to evaluate physicians who specialize in house calls so that you will be able to get the best physician possible to come to your home.

To protect yourself and your family, it is vital to learn how to recognize poorly-supervised medical groups. Here are some questions to ask any physician offering to come to your home:

· Is the physician who owns your medical group present every day at the local facility?

· Do you have a medical director and, if so, is the medical director present every day?

· Are you board-certified?

If the physician answers "no" to any of these questions, you should consider calling your local Area Agency on Aging before letting the physician into your home.

How to recognize high-quality house call medical groups

High-quality medical groups performing house calls will have the following characteristics:

· Thoughtful and conscientious care of geriatric patients. Proper patient care requires thorough evaluation of the patient and diligent coordination of services with the home health agency.

· The primary motive is quality patient care. Legitimate medical groups have a reputation for making decisions based on the best interests of the patient. Call your local home health agency or speak with a home care nurse and ask: What is this physician's reputation for the quality of care?

· Physician-owner presence. The physician registered as owning the medical group is present every day or has hired a medical director to be present every day.

· Membership in the American Academy of Home Care Medicine. Your house call physician should be a current member of the AAHCM and should follow the AAHCM's "Principles of Medical Ethics." (The AAHCM office an be reached at telephone: 410-676-7966.)

Community standards for house calls are rising because increasing numbers of high-quality physicians are offering house calls. The AAHCM has published home care ethical guidelines and has helped develop standards for credentialing physician home care medical practices.

In summary

Medicare has increased your benefits, enabling the practice of high-quality medicine in your home. If you are unable to visit your personal physician, he/she can consult a home care specialist to make a house call. Be sure that your personal physician or your home health nurse has approved the physician visiting your home.