Curator's Corner Blog

Monthly Archives: November 2014

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House Call

Many of us take for granted the ease in which we can receive medical care in modern times. We can easily schedule an appointment at the doctor’s office and receive the care we need. If we have more urgent medical needs, there is urgent care or the emergency room. If it is an emergency an ambulance can pick up can get you to a hospital within minutes. However, the idea that ill people should travel to a doctor’s office or hospital is a relatively new idea. As late as the 1970s, a doctor traveling to private homes was a popular way to receive medical care. Due to the need for specialization in the medical field, house calls quickly became a thing of the past.
During the 19th century most medical needs were met by doctors coming into private homes. While a few doctors had private offices, and hospitals did exist, most people in the 19th century lived in rural settings and it was simply easier sending for a doctor. Hospitals at the time were often very dirty and many people knew of dieses being spread there. Doctors were often called for a variety of reasons and had to have knowledge in countless areas of medicine. People would query doctors about tooth aches, stomach problems, broken bones, and many more issues. Because of the wide variety of problems doctors had to deal with they would have to carry as many medications as they could. Since they usually rode a horse or a buggy to the private home, they were usually limited to a single doctor’s bag like the one pictured below. These bags would carry anything from aspirin to chloroform in case surgery was needed.

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Doctors bag

House calls for physicians remained popular into the 20th century. By 1930 nearly 30% of all doctor-patients interactions were via house calls. As medicine advanced and doctors began to specialize in certain areas, house calls became rarer. By 1980 only about 1% of doctor-patient interactions were through house calls. There has been a slight surge in house calls the past ten years, but with many doctors needing large machines and instruments to do their jobs, house calls are considered a thing of the past.