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Doctors on Wheels interests Council health committee

Monday, April 27, 2009 by Jacob Cottingham

Seeing an opportunity to perhaps save money and help its citizens, the City Council Public Health and Human Services Subcommittee members appear  open to partnering with House Call Doctors, an Austin company that provides mobile non-emergency medical services to homebound patients.


On Tuesday, Julia Jung, COO of the company, told Council Members Lee Leffingwell, Mike Martinez and Randi Shade that their business brings doctors to the home of around 3000 geriatric patients in Houston, San Antonio and Austin. This can save the city money, because the elderly often use EMS to get to the emergency room, even when it’s not a life or death situation. Jung said a surprising number of elderly patients do this, which costs the city money in transportation and hospital costs.


Julia Peery, also with House Call Doctors, asked, “how we can improve the overall quality of health for the geriatric population in the city of Austin and save the city money, and use those EMS resources where they really need to be used?”


Jung also wanted to know, “Are there or will there be city funds in which we can access to offer some services to those who are not insured or to those who do not have Medicare benefits?” She was also curious about stimulus funds that may trickle down for such services. Leffingwell explained that the health care district would be a good place to start.


In Houston, House Call Doctors is working on a deal with the Health Department that would pay for patients with nine ER visits to be serviced by the mobile docs. House Call Doctors are the oldest and largest of five similar companies in Austin.


Peery told the subcommittee, “We provide all kinds of medical services in the home—anything that could be done in a medical office—we have a mobile x-ray and a mobile lab.” The company serves mostly Medicaid and Medicare patients.


Shade seemed the most receptive to the idea. “I’ve been out riding with EMS and I see it all the time, and it can be all ages, so this idea is really interesting to me.” She said “If a fire truck and then an ambulance shows up, as a taxpayer, it’s frustrating when it’s just a guy with a bladder infection.”


Martinez also had praise for the company saying, “you’re just right on point with the service you’re providing” and added that his years riding out with EMS in the fire department had clued him into some of the population’s dependence on emergency services. He pointed out that home service was a qualitative improvement from ER visits.


At the conclusion, Shade said she wanted to continue to follow up with the company and offered a suggestion to start partnering with non-profits or foundations. Martinez instructed staff to look into funding sources, such as potential stimulus dollars.

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