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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Getting Help

Hotel doctors need other doctors to cover when they’re busy or take time off. For years, I relied on a young colleague just starting out. He was superb, but that meant his practice grew rapidly. Searching for someone else, I placed ads in the Los Angeles County Medical Journal. If hotel doctoring seems romantic to you, it has the same effect on the medical profession, so an avalanche of responses followed.

Many callers had a day job. If they worked at a clinic, they couldn’t help because a clinic’s malpractice insurance never covers work outside the office. Buying their own policy was out of the question because none are cheap enough to cover the modest income I could provide. For this reason, residents also couldn’t work for me. Nor could retired doctors who’d dropped their insurance.

Some callers had a practice and their own insurance, but that meant they couldn’t leave during office hours. Most assured me they’d love to make visits afterward – to hotels in their area. Since doctors live in prosperous neighborhoods, but hotels are often downtown or near the airport, this would make my life too complicated.

I never considered myself unique until I tried to find a helper. My ideal would be competent, likable, available 24 hours a day, and willing to travel anywhere. That describes me. My young colleague qualified in three out of four, and I never improved on that. I enjoy friendly relations with a few other hotel doctors who cover when I leave town, but it’s never ideal to turn your business over to a competitor.

A surprising number of doctors announced they were free during the day and eager to make visits no matter how distant. All made me uncomfortable. Why didn’t they have a job? Even in Los Angeles, doctors have no trouble finding work. Quizzing them provided no reassurance. They had just arrived in town; they were unwilling to settle down just yet; they were searching for a congenial position… My explanation that covering would bring in a minuscule income didn’t faze them. I take for granted any doctor with a day job possesses at least marginal competence, but what about these fellows? Every doctor scratches his head over a few colleagues, wondering how they slipped through medical school and into practice without anyone noticing. So I’m still looking.

P.S. The doctor I once used is William Harrell; he’s still in practice in Santa Monica.

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