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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

How to Summon a Hotel Doctor

Getting sick far from home is miserable enough; you shouldn’t have to scramble for help. Here’s the best strategy.

1. Ask a hotel employee.

This often succeeds, but you may see him scratch his head. ‘... St. Mary’s is the nearest emergency room. Take Seventh Avenue about a mile, then...’ 

Don’t give up. Relations with the ‘house doctor’ are informal. He or she is never a hotel employee, and many on the staff are unaware of such a person. ‘You’re our doctor?  I didn’t know we had a doctor...’ is a comment I hear at hotels I’ve visited for years.

2. Ask the manager.

All know hotel doctors although you’ll occasionally hear: ‘I’m sorry but we can’t recommend anyone. Here’s a list of local hospitals...’ You are encountering one consequence of today’s malpractice crisis. The hotel’s lawyer has assumed (correctly) that a guest who sues the doctor will also sue the hotel that recommended him, so the lawyer has forbidden the staff to name anyone. When a manager clams up, you have four choices.

A. Demand a doctor.

Occasionally I visit an assertive guest who refuses to take no for an answer. I introduce myself to the manager afterwards, but he or she invariably insists that this was an exception, and the hotel can never, never mention my name.

B. Phone another hotel and ask for its doctor.

All luxury hotels (Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, Peninsula) have doctors; popular chains (Hilton, Holiday Inn, Hyatt, Ramada) are unpredictable, but the larger the hotel, the more likely you’ll succeed.

C. Phone a national house call service.

All claim to operate nationwide, but  you're out of luck if no moonlighter happens to be available. Some names to Google are Expressdoc, Housecall USA, AM-PM House calls, Hoteldocs. Their fee not only pays the doctor but the organization, so it can take your breath away. Ask how much and then ask for the extras because the meter may start running as soon as he walks through the door. I’m pretty sure I’m the only hotel doctor who charges a flat fee.

D. Call your family doctor for advice.

The law requires that a doctor be available to patients. You should reach him or someone covering. If not, complain to your state medical board.

What about insurance? Specific travel insurance pays for almost everything, and it’s cheaper than you think. Traditional health insurance may pay a fraction or apply it to your deductible. HMO’s are variable. All claim to cover emergencies, but they look skeptically on house calls…. I hate giving the following advice and never obey it myself: read your policy.


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