Not many doctors make house calls these days, but a company new to the Spokane area is bringing back the practice. Denver-based Dispatch Health opened an office in Spokane Valley about two months ago. Its practitioners say they’re providing urgent care-type medical care in patients’ homes.
It’s been a busy day for this two-person Dispatch Health medical team, nurse practitioner Christina Duncan and medical technician Mike Conrad. It’s 3 pm and they’ve already made several house calls.
“This morning we walked in and we didn’t have anybody and then all of a sudden we had about four pop up in about an hour," Duncan said.
Most of their calls are routine, strep throat, bladder infections, pink eye, things for which you might visit an urgent care center to get some immediate relief.
Their next call is to an adult care home, where they’ll see an elderly woman who’s having a hard time breathing. Since their last appointment, Conrad has replenished the medical supply kits that fill their compact car. He climbs into the drivers’ seat and consults an iPad above the dash board which tells them where they’re going.
“When I press this button that says en route, the patient’s going to get a phone call, letting them know that we’re on our way and to put their dogs away, weapons, things like that," Conrad said.
When they arrive, the care center employees move the woman into her room for an exam. Conrad opens the supply bags. Duncan sets up her laptop and printer. She suspects the woman has bronchitis and prescribes albuterol. Conrad puts a mask over the woman’s nose and mouth so she can inhale the vapors. The medicine seems to loosen the congestion. Duncan also cleans wax from the woman’s ears.
They spend an hour with her and consult her son, who has arrived partway through the exam. Duncan makes arrangements for a mobile x-ray unit to come the next morning and take a picture of the woman’s lungs.
When the exam’s over, they pack up their supplies and head back to the office to prepare for one final appointment.
“People like the convenience of not leaving their house," Duncan said. "We’re used to things like Amazon being delivered and groceries being delivered and so this is like bringing back the old-fashioned doctor call.”
Christina Duncan says Dispatch Health has expanded from Denver to 16 U.S cities. In Spokane, the company partners with MultiCare to provide in-home help in cases when a trip to the emergency room would be overkill. There are two two-person teams who combine to provide care 14 hours a day.
Duncan says the cost of a home visit is billed through insurance. She says plans will cover a visit; Kaiser Permanente is one notable exception. If their insurance won’t cover it, she says patients can pay the $275 charge themselves.
Duncan’s previous nursing experience is in hospitals. Conrad, the EMT, worked for the Airway Heights Fire Department. Both rave about their new assignment.
“Christina and I had a call yesterday that we made her a snack of peanut butter and crackers before we gave her a breathing treatment because albuterol can make you a little bit shaky," Conrad said. "Our average time on scene is 45 minutes, so we really get to take that time to meet our patients, understand their needs and their concerns and really just not rush. It’s phenomenal for health care.”
He says it brings back the vibe of that old fashioned provider-patient relationship, of a visit that isn’t rushed and a feeling that the doctor really knows and cares about the patient.
“I always say Christina and I get quite a few hugs and kisses from these patients because they’re just amazed that we’re able to do all of this," Conrad said.
Though Dispatch Health has only been in Spokane for two months, Conrad and Duncan say their days, and the days of a companion team, are getting busier as word spreads about the service they provide.