Objective: To describe the clinical features of home visits and their role in continuity of care, costs, and benefits in a rural office practice.
Design: Prospective study of all home visits performed during a 26-month period.
Setting: A general medicine teaching office practice located in rural Virginia.
Patients: All persons to whom home visits were made during the study period.
Main results: 138 home visits were made to 47 patients who had a mean age of 73.2 years. Home visits accounted for 1.4% of patient encounters in the practice, required a mean of 7.1 miles of one-way travel and a mean of 48 minutes, including travel time, to complete, and generated $36 in income per visit. Most patients (27 of 47) were not permanently homebound. Reasons for patients' being homebound were grouped into six categories (acute illness, frail elderly, terminal illness, advanced chronic disease, neurologic problem, and miscellaneous reasons). The reasons for visits were grouped into four categories (acute self-limited illness, exacerbation of chronic disease, routine follow-up of chronic disease, and psychosocial problem). Physicians judged that 80% of home visits represented appropriate use of their services. In addition, 46% of home visits made an emergency room visit unnecessary, and 9% made a hospital admission unnecessary. At the time of 75% of home visits, physicians reported personal benefits of making the visit.
Conclusions: Home visits have an important role in the care of ambulatory as well as permanently homebound patients. While physicians judged most home visits to be appropriate and personally beneficial, these visits required more time and generated less revenue than did office visits for comparable problems. Because home visits generated as well as prevented the use of medical services, their impact on the overall cost of medical care in this setting is unclear.