The New York Times offers an OpEd written by Jack Resnick, a NYC solo internist. In this article, Dr, Resnick discusses delivering care at home and highlights the health and economic opportunities afforded by this practice, particularly among the elderly and highly disabled. Of course, these patient groups are often complex and have multiple comorbidities.
The opportunity afforded clinicians who assess patients at home is that of a highly detailed understanding of the context in which caregiving (including self-care) is taking place and on the ways care is being implemented.
A colleague working a few years back in the Peruvian jungle noted that pill blisters were accumulating around a religious icon sitting on a shelf. The patient felt that this was the way in which these medicines would be most conducive to improved her health.
Clinicians accessing patients at home also reduce access barriers to care and can make care delivery fit the context of these patients and their caregivers. By clinicians I mean not only physicians but also nurses, pharmacists, social workers, dietitians, coaches, and other healthcare workers.
As consultants and sales people know, travelling to make sure you have enough face-to-face contact is important to develop relationships and make fruitful connection. Chronic care delivery clinicians know the same thing. As both are finding out, tools to achieve that connection cannot replace the power of the personal visit, but certainly supplement it. To make models of home care affordable will require a combination of in-person and technology enabled contacts, with the former always administered in sufficient dose before shifting to the latter.
Healthcare reform in the US has provisions to support Independence at Home Organizations. Very little research into technologies to support home care delivery and in ways to support and enable the informal care network that is home-based exists. It would be critical when developing rules for these organizations that the burden they may impose on patients and caregivers be kept to a minimum by design, that they connect with communities to improve patient and caregiver capacity, and that they proceed efficiently in a patient-centered fashion.
That this connects with Minimally Disruptive Medicine is hinted by Dr. Resnick himself, the author of the OpEd. He states:
For too long the institutions that make up our health care system — hospitals, insurers and drug companies — have told us that “more is better”: more medicines, more specialists, more tests. To rein in spending and deliver better care, we must recognize that the primary mission of many an institution is its own survival and growth. We can’t rely on institutions to shrink themselves. We need to give that job to patients and their doctors, and move health care into the home, where it is safer and more effective.
Perhaps too much to ask of a single solution set, but perhaps not. For those who are home bound and for those for whom the current system fails them by overwhelming them, home delivered care may represent one more tool to deliver care that fits.