Literature Review

Virtual House Calls Are Feasible for Patients With Parkinson’s Disease

Participants prefer virtual visits with a remote specialist to their standard in-person clinician.



Providing remote neurologic care directly into the homes of patients with Parkinson’s disease is feasible and is neither more nor less efficacious than usual in-person care, according to research published in the September 12 issue of Neurology. Virtual house calls are also efficient, eliminating approximately 35,000 miles of travel, and reducing the need for parking lots, waiting rooms, and clinic space.

“The [virtual] visits provide most patients the care that they prefer, the convenience that they need, and the comfort that they value,” said lead author Christopher A. Beck, PhD, Associate Professor of Biostatistics and Orthopedics at the University of Rochester, and colleagues.


Virtual house calls are becoming increasingly common for episodic conditions, but limited evidence supports their use for chronic conditions, according to the researchers. Approximately 40% of patients with Parkinson’s disease never receive care from a neurologist. These patients are more likely to have increased morbidity, to lose independence, and to die prematurely, they said.



Standard Care Versus Virtual House Calls

To determine whether providing virtual house calls is feasible, valuable, and beneficial, Dr. Beck and colleagues conducted a one-year randomized controlled study. Eligible participants had a clinical diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease; had a private, Internet-enabled device; and lived in a state where a site investigator was licensed to practice. Patients currently hospitalized, who had a condition that would preclude study participation in the judgement of the site investigator, or who were currently enrolled in another telemedicine study were excluded.

Investigators compared usual care to usual care supplemented with four virtual visits via video conferencing from a remote specialist into patients’ homes. Primary outcome measures were feasibility, measured by the proportion of participants who completed at least one virtual visit and the proportion of virtual visits completed on time, and efficacy, measured by change in the Parkinson ’s Disease Questionnaire-39, a quality of life scale. Secondary outcomes included quality of care, caregiver burden, and time and travel savings.

Most Participants Were Satisfied With Virtual Visits

A total of 927 patients indicated interest in the study. Of these, 732 were excluded because they did not meet eligibility requirements, did not consent, or withdrew prior to randomization. A total of 210 were enrolled, and 195 were randomized. In all, 73% of participants had recently visited a specialist, 73% were college-educated, and 96% were white. The mean age of participants was 66. Ninety-eight percent of participants randomized to the intervention arm completed at least one virtual visit; 91% of 388 virtual visits were completed.

Quality of life did not improve for patients who received virtual house calls nor did quality of care or caregiver burden. However, each virtual house call saved patients a median of 88 minutes per visit and 38 miles per visit. Ninety-seven percent of patients and 86% of physicians were satisfied or very satisfied with virtual visits.

One limitation of this study was that the majority of participants were white, well educated, and more familiar with the internet than the general population. “Dedicated outreach to underserved populations, including those with advanced disease and from underserved demographic groups, especially women, rural residents, minorities, homebound, or those in assisted living facilities, will help determine if the results are more generalizable and whether the benefits are potentially greater for those with historically less access to care,” said Dr. Beck and colleagues.

“Virtual house calls generated great interest and provided substantial convenience,” the researchers said. “Future efforts must address the digital divide and policy barriers to insure that this new care model can address inequities in access to care.”

—Erica Tricarico

Suggested Reading

Beck CA, Beran DB, Biglan KM, et al. National randomized controlled trial of virtual house calls for Parkinson disease. Neurology. 2017;89(11):1152-1161.

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