Thursday, February 11, 2016

My Best Customer

I’m the doctor for scores of Los Angeles hotels, but even the largest (the Bonaventure) rarely generates five visits per month.

National housecall agencies and international travel insurers provide more business. My leading client is Inn House Doctor, a national agency run by an entrepreneur based near Boston. You can google it.

He solicits hotels, including mine, but they are not an important source of business. Since Inn House collects a cut of the fee, guests who call hear a large quote.

Many travel insurers use Inn House Doctor for their clients in America. It would make more sense for them to call me directly, but I earn my usual fee, so I don’t care. I prefer Inn House when guests live far away, because insurers often refuse to pay a larger fee. Inn House understands.

Its biggest clients are foreign airlines who need doctors for sick crew. In the past some airlines called me, but I’m happy to work for Inn House because it handles many more.

I don’t solicit distant hotels, but airlines, always searching for the best deal, may house crew fifty miles from the airport. I make half a dozen very long trips every month, but airline crew make excellent patients – not demanding and rarely very sick.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Free Medical Care

When guests ask my fee, I tell them and then steer the conversation to their problem. Half the time, they don’t need a visit. If so, they’re grateful for the advice, especially after learning that I don’t charge for phone calls. It’s good public relations, but I also don’t like to make a housecall and collect money for a trivial service.

If you google “house call doctor” plenty of eager individuals and national housecall services turn up but not me. None deliver free care, so the caller has the choice of a paying visit or nothing. A doctor (sometimes me if you call a national service) may come, hand over a prescription for a medicine you accidentally left at home, and then collect several hundred dollars.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

My Fifteen Minutes of Fame

Every five years or so, the Los Angeles Times discovers the housecall and publishes an enthusiastic article that doesn’t mention me, the nation’s leading housecall doctor.

Another appeared two days ago. As always, I wrote the reporter to point out his error. To my surprise, he phoned yesterday, interviewed me for half an hour, and wrote another article in today’s Times. You can find it at:

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A Dog-Eat-Dog Business, Part 12

On September 3 I wrote about a new housecall service that charged up to $2000. On September 7 I described one that charged $99. Clearly these are extreme. 

So what about $250? That’s painful but, in a pinch, suffering a stomach virus or bad case of flu, many of you might pay. 

What are the alternatives? Several concierge doctors pop up on a Google search, but they may charge triple this. Veteran Los Angeles hotel doctors visit private houses if asked; they charge around double. Call Heal, the $99 service, if it’s still in business. One side-effect of a low fee is that it pays doctors less than the going rate, so many are residents in training. This does not mean they don’t know their business; in fact, being residents, they take every illness very, very seriously. Of course, you could always ask for Doctor Oppenheim. 

The founder of the $250 service, SOS Doctor Housecall, contacted me first because I already work for her. She is the French lady who sends doctors to Frenchmen in Los Angeles. I mention her in posts from February 28, 2011, September 2, 2014, and January 4, 2015. 

She is putting together her app and hopes to launch soon. If she’s successful, my colleagues will feel the strain, but I’ll be making visits for her.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Be Careful What You Ask For

He had been coughing for several days, a guest explained, adding that he probably needed a Z-pak. When a patient suggests he needs an antibiotic, a doctor feels one of two emotions.

(1) Pleasure because this guarantees an easy visit. Give the antibiotic, and the patient will make it clear that the doctor has done what a good doctor does. I doubt most of you realize the importance of your gratitude. No matter how you try to conceal it, if you’re disappointed, we feel depressed.

(2) Depression. In an otherwise healthy person, the only common illness with a cough that antibiotics cure is bacterial pneumonia which is not common. All others are viral infections. These affect fifteen percent of everyone who consults a doctor, so they are no trivial matter.

Over the phone, I quizzed him about his symptoms and then explained that he was suffering a self-limited illness requiring only over-the-counter remedies. When he insisted that he needed a doctor, I directed him to a nearby urgent care clinic where he would get his antibiotic.

Monday, January 25, 2016

How Doctor Oppenheim Met His Wife

In 1975 I and a friend were fresh out of internship. He had a job at a Los Angeles clinic that remained open during the weekend. Few patients came, so I often visited, and we sat talking. The only other employee, a nurse – really a young woman who wore a white coat and acted as receptionist -- joined us. After a few visits I got up the nerve to ask her on a date.

She was committed, she explained. But she worked at the Woman’s Building, a flourishing feminist arts center. She offered to give me some phone numbers.

I declined. I was too shy to call women I didn’t know.

“Then what’s the solution?” she asked.

“Maybe they could call me.” I meant this as a joke and forgot about it until a week later when a woman phoned. I did my duty by asking her to dinner, and it proved an excellent decision.

There is more to it. It turns out that she and the nurse were candidates for a college art teaching position in Oakland. Both flew up for an interview. My future wife later learned that the nurse had already sewn up the job, so there was no point in the interview. During the plane ride, she had given me an enthusiastic recommendation, perhaps as a consolation prize. 

When we discussed how our lives and the nurse’s had progressed over the years, we agreed that my wife had gotten the better deal. 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Dog-Eat-Dog Business, Part 11

“This is Doctor Oppenheim,” I repeated several times before hanging up. Caller ID identified the Doubletree in Santa Monica, so I phoned to ask if someone had requested a doctor. Someone had.

“You answered, but you couldn’t hear me,” said the guest. “So I called the front desk again, and they gave me a different number. Another doctor is coming.”

That was upsetting because the Doubletree is one of my regulars. When asked, the guest gave me the 800 number of Hotel Doctors International, a service based in Miami.

“How much are they charging?” I asked.

“I don’t know. They just asked if I had insurance.”

That was a red flag. Many hotel doctors charge spectacular fees – and then assure guests that travel insurance will reimburse them. This rarely works with Americans, but foreigners make up half of our business including mine. Helpless and ill, forewarned of our rapacious medical system, they rarely make a fuss.

I told the guest that my fee was $250 and that he should call the agency and ask what it charged. It turned out to be $650 (far from the largest I’ve heard), so I made the housecall.

Afterward, standing on tiptoes to peer over the front desk, I saw the colorful business card of Hotel Doctors International stuck on the counter. The clerk, who had insisted that mine was the only number she knew, expressed surprise when I pointed it out.