Are doctors making house calls a thing of the past? Photo: Thinkstock
It seems slightly quaint to me now, but one of my most vivid childhood memories is of being sick in bed on a cold, rainy day with our beloved family doctor at my bedside quietly telling me to say "Ahhhh". It felt safe and cosy, and I loved watching him reach into his big black leather bag and pull out all sorts of instruments.
In a household of three children, having the doctor visit was quite a regular occurrence, even though none of us was ever critically ill. All it took was a cough, a high temperature and a call from my mother and the doc was on our doorstep, especially if it was a winter’s night.
It’s a memory undoubtedly shared by gener-ations of Australians and yet it’s something my children are unlikely to experience.
The centuries-old tradition of the house call is ailing and many experts believe it will die out altogether unless something is done soon. In the past year, doctors made just over one million house calls across Australia, compared with more than 2.3 million a decade ago. The decline is expected to continue in the near future.
The only practical choice for most of us when we get sick now is a trip to the doctor’s surgery or, failing that, a hospital waiting room.
For my own part, even though I have a regular GP, I’ve been compelled to transport my one-year-old to his surgery eight times this past winter. I even spent frustrating hours in a hospital ED one night waiting for a doctor to tell me my daughter’s nasty cough wasn’t anything serious – something my GP could have told me at home had I been able to get him there.
At the other end of the age scale, my 90-year-old grandmother was forced to make her own way to see her GP for a simple blood pressure check twice last winter and has reluctantly called an ambulance three times following dizzy spells. Her doctor has stopped making house calls.
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