DOWNTOWN — In an era when more people are feeling pressured to use their cell phones for business as much as pleasure, Dr. Michael Farzam, a local house call doctor, has no other choice — and he likes it that way.
Farzam grew up knowing he wanted to dedicate his life to healing others.
“At the end of the day, I enjoy working with people,” he said. “It’s never been a chore or seemed like work — it’s a genuine pleasure.”
Yet, he was also perpetually unsatisfied with the state of the medical profession. Cursory meetings with patients who spent hours upon hours in waiting rooms did not sit well with Farzam.
That’s when his “concierge” approach to doctor-patient relations began taking shape.
A native Santa Monican, Farzam’s family owns and operates several hotels in the city. It is there he began answering personal calls to treat tourists and individuals renting out rooms. These people either did not know the ins and outs of the city, or did not wish to waste their valuable vacation time in a hospital waiting room.
Thus, his house call business venture became more defined. Though Farzam is continually faced with people who think house calls were a thing of the past, he finds that patients who are too busy or too uncomfortable to visit the hospital request his service.
Through referrals, Farzam’s business began booming, eventually morphing into the full-time house call doctor service it is today.
“All my patients have my cell phone number; I have no office phone,” he said, adding that, this way, he can take calls at any hour, addressing issues that arise in a “personalized, informal atmosphere.”
The only downside, he added, is that he works 24/7. He has pledged to be present at all his kids’ games, school events and family dinners but admits his concierge-style practice “creates more difficulty” when it comes to planning time with his family.
A typical day for Farzam consists of five to 10 house calls. He can usually be at a patient’s home within an hour, and spends upwards of an hour with them, he said.
Dr. Patrick Dowling, professor and chairman of UCLA Family Medicine, admits that he spends 10 to 15 minutes with his patients, at most.
Dowling characterizes a patient visit as a “hectic time.” Contrarily, if he were to go to someone’s home, he imagines he would have time to “sit down, talk to someone, and usually get something to drink or eat — that sort of thing.”
Farzam appreciates the added time he gets to spend with his patients, and points out the financial benefits of the house call business as well. Patients often pay $1,000 for a trip to the emergency room when he can provide the same care during a visit for $350.
Dowling acknowledges the positive patient response to the practice, and believes that the house call is making a comeback.
“Studies have shown that (house call practices) result in higher patient satisfaction, fewer emergency room visits, lower health care costs and a healthier population,” Dowling said.
But there are drawbacks.
Visiting patients in their personal homes or workplaces is time consuming. The drive, compounded with the time of the actual visit, could amount to over two hours. Reimbursement for such services is minimal, Dowling said.
Nonetheless, Dowling believes that this is the direction in which medical practices are heading. He added that his department is hoping to be much more involved in house call services come September.
The house call’s preventative approach and focus on personalized care and overall wellness ultimately sends less people to the emergency room. This means lower costs for patients and hospitals alike, Dowling said.
Tara Margolin, a loyal house call patient, certainly enjoys receiving premium medical care at a fraction of the cost. Margolin has been Farzam’s patient since April, when a cuticle infection had her fingertip “swelling up like a tomato.” As her local urgent care center had shut down, Margolin took to the Internet and found Farzam through “good Google placement.”
Farzam arrived at her doorstep 45 minutes after she called him and quickly eradicated the problem.
Margolin has been calling and texting Farzam with any medical issues, concerns or questions she’s had since their first meeting.
“I might become a hypochondriac with this kind of medical care,” she said, laughing.