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The History of Medical House Calls


Medical house calls, the tradition of physicians visiting patients in their homes, have a long and rich history. This practice, which dates back to ancient times, was once the primary mode of healthcare delivery, long before the establishment of modern hospitals and clinics. The value of house calls lies not only in their practicality but also in the personal touch they bring to the doctor-patient relationship.

Early Beginnings

The concept of house calls has been an integral part of medical practice for centuries. In ancient times, physicians would directly visit the homes of their patients to provide care. This was true for civilizations around the world, from Greece to China. For instance, the famous Greek physician Hippocrates was known to have visited his patients in their homes. This approach to healthcare was necessitated by the lack of medical institutions and the difficulty of travel for many patients.

In medieval times, the practice of house calls became even more entrenched. Physicians were few, and medical institutions were still a rarity. As such, doctors would often travel long distances to visit their patients. This was a time when physicians had a deep understanding of their patients’ living conditions, which greatly influenced the treatment they provided.

Rise and Peak in the 19th Century

The practice of house calls reached its peak in the 19th century. During this period, physicians would travel on horseback or on foot to see their patients, armed with a bag filled with medical tools and remedies. This was a time when the physician-patient relationship was strong and personal. Physicians were respected members of the community and were often intimately involved in the lives of their patients.

The 19th century was also a time of medical discoveries and advancements. Despite the lack of modern technology, physicians were able to diagnose and treat a variety of diseases using their knowledge and the basic tools they carried. The practice of house calls allowed them to observe patients in their natural environment, which often provided valuable insights into their conditions.

Evolution and Decline in the 20th Century

The 20th century, however, brought significant changes that impacted the practice of house calls. The advent of medical technology and the rise of hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare institutions led to a decline in house calls. It became more efficient and practical for patients to visit doctors in centralized locations where advanced equipment and a full medical staff were available. By the mid-20th century, house calls constituted only a small portion of all doctor-patient interactions.

Despite this decline, house calls remained an important aspect of healthcare for certain groups of people, such as those living in rural areas or those with mobility issues. For these individuals, the convenience and necessity of a doctor’s visit at home outweighed the benefits of visiting a hospital or clinic.

The Revival of House Calls

In the 21st century, we are witnessing a revival of house calls, particularly for the elderly and chronically ill who find it difficult to travel. Technological advancements have made it possible for physicians to carry portable diagnostic tools, enabling them to provide comprehensive care at home. The rise of telemedicine has also facilitated remote consultations, further cementing the role of house calls in modern healthcare.

This revival is driven by a shift towards more patient-centric healthcare. There is a growing recognition of the value of treating patients in the comfort of their homes, where they are more at ease and their health conditions can be assessed in their natural environment.


The history of medical house calls is a testament to the evolving nature of healthcare delivery. From being the primary mode of healthcare in ancient times to their decline and subsequent revival in the modern era, house calls have continually adapted to the needs and constraints of the times. As we move towards a more patient-centric healthcare system, house calls may once again become a vital part of our medical practice, proving that sometimes, the old ways can still be the best ways.

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