Ernest Brown is a unique doctor. Unlike most doctors, he does not work in a clinic or hospital. He works out of a black Toyota truck. Patients do not come to him. He comes to their houses.
Dr. Ernest Brown is a doctor who makes house calls.
In 2008, Dr. Brown received his first phone call asking him to make a house call. Almost eight years later, this is the only method Dr. Brown uses. But, he says, this method is not unusual or even new.
"It's not anything new, because it’s really just the roots of medicine. You know, when you go back in time, when communities were smaller and people were part of a community... there used to be a good old doc down the street… That's really been, kind of, lost."
Dr. Brown was born and raised in Washington, DC. He is 47 years old and a graduate of Howard University College of Medicine. His first interest was in emergency medicine. However, in his third year of medical school he studied under Dr. George Taler. Dr. Taler only treated patients by visiting them in their homes.
Dr. Brown saw a special relationship between Dr. Taler and his patients. Most doctors stand over their patients and do not touch them, Dr. Brown says. Dr. Taler sat down beside on of his patient’s hospital bed and said, "Mary, I think you're doing great. I'll see you at home in a week."
Several months later, Dr. Brown took a trip to Cuba. In Cuba, he witnessed a festival honoring a member of the community.
"There was this little old guy… He had a red scarf, suit, and a cane, and he was twirling the scarf and popping the cane. And people would come up to him and dance with him, hug him, and he would smile… It was so nice to see this elderly gentleman in his community and people engaged with him. And I was like, 'you know, that's really cool. Who is he?' 'He's our family doctor."
From that moment, Dr. Brown decided to become a family doctor. This means he treats men and women of all ages. Family doctors are usually the first doctor a sick person contacts. He chose family medicine because he believes it brings him closer to his community.
"When you slow things down and do what I think is appropriate, [and] really interact with patients, and follow patients, [then] you really know the true benefit of healing. Of being a physician, and caring."
The American Academy of Family Physicians reports that fewer medical students are entering family medicine. Dr. Brown says that this is because of the increasing cost of medical school. This increase forces students to seek specializations in medicine. These specializations will get the students better paying jobs in the future.
Meggie Chochol is a third year medical student at Georgetown University. She is interested in Dr. Brown’s work and follows him on house calls. "There’s so much insight you can gain just seeing somebody in their home and in their natural environment versus in [the clinic]," she says. However, Mrs. Chochol says she will finish medical school with half a million dollars in debt.
The Health Care Cost Institute is a non-profit organization based in the United States. The organization collects data from private insurance companies to measure the current cost of healthcare in the country. According to the HCCI, privately insured people under the age of 65 increased their healthcare spending by 3.9 per cent in 2013.
Dr. Brown refuses to work with any health insurance organization. He only requires patients to pay him when their health improves. He makes money from what he calls "concierge services." Concierges from upscale hotels would contact him when hotel guests are feeling sick. Dr. Brown collects fees from these wealthy patients so he can provide free treatment to people who cannot afford it.
Three years ago, Dr. Brown received one of his first concierge service calls. A high level politician from Greece was in Washington, DC for a meeting. He fell ill before the start of the meeting. Dr. Brown helped improve the politician's health. As a reward, the politician gave him and his family a free vacation to Greece.
During Dr. Brown’s vacation, the politician asked him to renew his professional vows on the island of Cos. Cos is the island where the physician Hippocrates taught medicine thousands of years ago. Hippocrates is considered the father of Western medicine.
Dr. Brown says moments like these inspire him to continue his work. Patients want peace of mind. He says that the way to achieve this is "to care, end of story."
I'm Pete Musto.
Dr. Brown's website is called "Doctors To You."
This story was written and reported by Pete Musto. Hai Do was the editor.