Background: Over the past decade, while physician home visiting has continued to decline, the home care industry has been experiencing dramatic growth. In response, several major physician organizations have been encouraging increased physician education and involvement in home care and urging related health policy changes. This study provides the first in-depth, nationally representative descriptive data on the current home visiting practice and related attitudes of physicians.
Methods: Data were gathered through a structured 15-minute telephone survey, consisting of 141 items covering physician's general practice, personal home visiting practice, interaction with other home care providers, and attitudes regarding home care issues. Subjects were a nationally representative, randomly selected sample of 2200 family practice physicians (FPs) and internal medicine physicians (IMs) currently in active practice with at least 10 hours per week of professional time spent in ambulatory care.
Results: Sixty-five percent of eligible participants completed the survey. Of all physicians surveyed, 65% of FPs and 44% of IMs reported that they may make house calls (P less than .001). Mean number of visits per year was 21.2 (median, 10) for FPs, and it was 15.7 (median, 6) for IMs. Physicians in rural practice were more likely to make home visits (P less than .001). Physician attitudes related to home care reflect a strong dissatisfaction with reimbursement, but positive opinions about the use of other home care professionals and the importance of home visits for selected patients. Logistic regression analysis comparing home-visiting physicians with non-visiting physicians allowed for prediction of the correct classification 73% of the time, and it revealed six variables that were significant predictors of home visiting. The strongest of these predictors were the physician's positive attitude regarding the importance of home visits for selected patients and his or her perception of having time available for home visits. Other significant variables predictive of home visiting were family practice specialty, rural location of practice, greater numbers of referrals to home care agencies, and, interestingly, dissatisfaction with reimbursement.
Conclusions: Although the great majority (over 75%) of FPs and IMs still regard the physician home visit as important for the care of selected patients, only about half report making one or more home visits within a 12-month period. Family physicians generally report a greater involvement in home care than do IMs. Physician reimbursement for home visits is perceived to be inadequate, and almost half (45%) indicate that they would do more home visits if reimbursement were increased. Most physicians (over 80%) have the opinion that home care agencies should be used more.