Friday, October 14, 2011

“Can you make a housecall in Larkspur?”

I’d never heard of it. Google Maps revealed that it’s four hundred miles away, north of San Francisco. The dispatcher seemed disappointed at the news.

Half a dozen travel insurance agencies serving clients from Latin America have US offices in Miami, and it’s natural that they’re unfamiliar with California geography. Looking up cities is easy, but it’s even easier to call me. I'm sure you've phoned your family doctor, wading through voicemail, answering services, receptionists, and leaving messages. Hours may pass, but eventually the doctor calls except when he doesn’t.

Pity these poor dispatchers. Once a sick client phones, the dispatcher retrieves a list of doctors from that city and begins calling. Even after she finds one willing to make a housecall, her task is not finished because everyone knows doctors are terribly busy. I can confirm from my own experience that a colleague who agrees to help might not give this a high priority. Early in my career my requests were invariably followed, a few hours later, by a call from the hotel informing me that the guest was still waiting. Now I extract a promise that he will go quickly and then phone later to make sure he does.

I’ve never had an office. My number reaches my cell phone; I always answer in person, and I try not to decline visits within reasonable driving distance. Without being asked, I always tell the caller when I’ll arrive.

This turns out to be good for business. Tracking down a doctor remains a tedious process in other cities but requires a single call in Los Angeles, so dispatchers find it easiest to call me. Some phone whenever a California client calls, so I often deliver the bad news that they must begin working down the list for San Francisco, Sacramento, or San Diego.

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