House calls to the elderly--a vanishing practice among physicians

N Engl J Med. 1997 Dec 18;337(25):1815-20. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199712183372507.


Background: Despite the growth in other home health care services, the number of house calls by physicians has declined dramatically during this century. We determined the frequency of house calls made by physicians to elderly U.S. patients in 1993 and analyzed the characteristics of the physicians and patients involved.

Methods: We analyzed a 5 percent random sample of the 1993 Medicare Part B claims data for beneficiaries over the age of 65 who were not enrolled in health maintenance organizations (HMOs). With supplemental information from the Area Resource File and the American Medical Association's Physician Masterfile, we determined how many house calls were made, their cost, and a number of specific characteristics of the physicians and the patients.

Results: In our 1993 sample, 36,350 house calls were made to 11,917 of the 1,357,262 patients. When extrapolated to all Medicare beneficiaries over age 65 and not enrolled in HMOs, these figures correspond to 727,000 house calls to 238,340 patients nationwide. We estimated the cost of these house calls to be $63 million. The patients who received house calls from physicians were older than those who did not, were more likely to die within the calendar year, had higher rates of hospitalization, and were more likely to receive care from other home health providers, hospice programs, and skilled-nursing facilities. Patients residing in rural areas and those in areas with high physician-to-population ratios had an increased likelihood of receiving a house call. The physicians who made house calls were more likely than others to be generalists, osteopaths, older, male, board-certified, practicing in the Northeast, and in solo practice.

Conclusions: A very small percentage (0.88 percent) of elderly Medicare patients, mainly those who are very sick and near the end of life, receive house calls from physicians.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • House Calls / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medicare
  • Medicine / statistics & numerical data
  • Professional Practice / statistics & numerical data
  • Random Allocation
  • Sampling Studies
  • Specialization
  • United States