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Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Dog-Eat-Dog Business, Part 3

November is my slowest month. Calls remain scanty until Christmas, but the last week of December is always the busiest of the year. Don’t ask me why.

Thirty years of records confirm this, so I should keep calm when the phone remains silent, but it’s not easy. Hotel doctoring is viciously competitive.

Waiting at the local carwash, my eye ran over a sheet of ads along one wall. Among notices for personal injury lawyers, pest control, acupuncturists, and pizzas was a photo of a smiling young man in a white coat carrying a doctor’s bag. According to the text, a phone call would bring him to your door at a fee less than an emergency room’s. All ads for housecalls deliver this cheerful boast, never mentioning that the average ER visit, as of 2009, cost $1318.    

My first instinct was to chuckle at the waste of money. Few customers at a carwash will pay the going rate for a housecall. My second instinct was to worry. This fellow was ambitious. His web site features the same photograph plus testimonials from rating sites such as Yelp describing him as a healer of Christ-like compassion.

My third instinct was to recall a visit to Le Petite Hermitage, a small boutique hotel off the Sunset Strip. The guest had spoken to this doctor the day before, decided against a visit, and expressed pleasure at finding me and my lower fee. Since Le Petite Hermitage was a regular, I assumed he’d gotten the name from the internet. Now I’m not so sure because this occurred early in the year, and hotel hasn’t called since.

In large hotels employees know me by sight and take for granted, even without an official announcement, that I’m the house doctor. Since it has only 80 rooms, I may not visit Le Petite Hermitage for months at a time, so I’m not a familiar face. As a result, when an entrepreneurial physician makes an appearance to extol the benefits of his service including, perhaps, an amenity for the employee who refers a guest, he makes an impression.

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