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Doctors in Syracuse using house calls to cut down on emergency room visits

Ellen Abbott
Dr. Christian Knutsen, an emergency room physician at Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse, shows the equpiment he carries in his car to make house calls

One of the goals of healthcare reform is to cut down on the number of expensive emergency room visits. And a new pilot program in Syracuse’s eastern suburbs hopes to do that by way of an old medical standby, the house call. 

Dr. Christian Knutsen, an emergency room physician at Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse, and EMS provider says the idea for house calls took hold after a local fire chief complained about the number of people ambulances take to the ER for minor complaints, things like cuts or coughs or gastrointestinal disorders.

"It takes their firefighters out of business for one to to to three hours," said Knutsen. "And they really want their firefighters available for car accidents, fires, emergencies.”

So physicians affiliated with Upstate University Hospital decided to start a pilot program, to see if house calls for minor afflictions could avoid those unnecessary trips to the emergency room. Knutsen expects to be able to stitch lacerations, offer treatment for coughs and colds to folks who might find it hard to leave home, families with young children and people that don’t have access to transportation. And he says most people would rather be home waiting for a doctor, than sitting in a crowded emergency room.

"You want to be home with your own couch, your own TV, your own kitchen, your own bathroom," said Knutsen. And getting care there is easier, it’s more comfortable."

The trial program, called Upstate At Home, will take insurance, including Medicare and Medicaid. If it works in Knutsen’s home base, which runs from Dewitt into Cazenovia and Chittenango, the concept could expand.

"There are other nurse practitioners and doctors who want to do this elsewhere in the county, who live in different sections of Onondaga," said Knutsen.  "If this part works, and we show it works, it’ll be easy to duplicate what we have and go elsewhere.”