The Government's Secret to Living Longer

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — On a recent home visit to see a frail 93-year-old female patient, co-founder and chief medical officer of Doctors Making Housecalls Dr. Shohreh Taavoni determined, after ordering Doppler ultrasound studies, which also took place in the patient's home, that her patient's swollen leg resulted from deep venous thrombosis, a potentially dangerous blood clot. Treatment – anticoagulants -- also took place at home, as did monitoring of the patient with the same laboratory studies typically available only at hospitals.

Doctors Making Housecalls is one of 15 independent practices and three consortia in 17 states participating in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Independence at Home program. Home visits under the three-year "demonstration" began in 2012.

The Independence at Home program focuses on providing long-term primary care management to Medicare patients with complex medical histories in home settings to determine if doing so improves their care and reduces costs. The idea is to treat medical problems before they progress and require a visit to the emergency room or hospitalization.

Elderly people who have complex medical conditions often have a difficult time connecting with a doctor, because they are homebound or have no transportation, so they wait until there is a crisis to seek medical attention, explains Alan Kronhaus, who heads up Doctors Making Housecalls in North Carolina. He says that they get most of their care from emergency room visits and acute care hospitals, which are the most dangerous settings for this population. Kronhaus points out that studies show high rates of hospital acquired infections, falls, trauma, sundowning (where elderly patients get agitated and confused in their new surroundings, typically as the sun sets) and cognitive decline, even if there are no adverse events, among this population.

"By visiting patients in their homes, you get insights that are invisible during a routine office visit," says Ina Li, M.D., the associate director of geriatrics and the medical director of the Visiting Nurse Association at Christiana Care. "Through our visits, we are able to learn how patients are living with their medical conditions, how they are using their medications, their lifestyles and support system."