Nightly News   |  December 02, 2009

House calls make a comeback

Dec. 2: Making a Difference: An old-fashioned medical practice could help to cut Medicare costs. NBC's Roger O'Neil reports.

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>>> first prescription fe

>>> we're back. it's time now for our making a difference report. tonight, from richmond , virginia nbc's roger o'neil has the story of a doctor who's making a difference for his patients by doing what used to be standard practice.

>> reporter: is it a relic of doctoring past or perhaps what doctoring should be?

>> come on in.

>> reporter: house calls . dr. peter bolling has made them for 25 years.

>> this hand swells up real bad.

>> reporter: the richmond , virginia geriatrician believes it reduces costs for society's most frail and most expensive patients, the elderly on medicare . none of the gee whiz technology and specialties available in a hospital go away when doctors begin making house calls . but in dr. bolling 's experience he ends up using what's in his black bag and what's in his head a lot more. but the real savings from house calls comes from keeping people out of the hospital in the first place.

>> things get very expensive very quickly.

>> reporter: here are some startling numbers. the government reports medicare patients with multiple illnesses, estimated to be 3 million, see 13 different doctors a year, get 50 different prescriptions, and account for 76% of all hospital admissions.

>> if we can keep these people from riding in ambulances to emergency sxroomz hospitarooms and hospi tals we'll save the medicare program perhaps in as much as a year's time $50 billion --

>> 50 billion?

>> 50 billion with a b.

>> reporter: bolling has rare bipartisan support in the senate and house reform bills. the proposed independence at home act pays for itself with medicare dollars saved but also uses bonuses to entice house call docs who give good care and cut costs.

>> how have you been feeling?

>> reporter: dr. bolling says it's a win for doctors, a win for medicare , and a win for folks like isaac and olga graves.

>> it's a life saver of both of us. house call makes all the difference in the world.

>> reporter: an old-fashioned idea for today's doctors and their patients. roger o'neil, nbc news, richmond .

>> what could be wrong with