Monday, December 28, 2015

A Hotel Doctor's Christmas

A travel insurer reported a sick child at the Anaheim Holiday Inn, near Disneyland forty miles away. Freeway traffic was tolerable, but when I arrived and knocked no one answered. 

I walked around the lobby. With my suit, beard, and black bag, I look like a doctor in an old Hollywood movie, but no one responded. A waitress in the hotel restaurant asked at everyone’s table, but no one admitted calling a doctor. I drove away in a good mood. When hotel guests call and then disappear, I’m out of luck, but travel insurers pay for no-show visits.

I was a mile from home when the insurer called. The mother was on the line, claiming she had been waiting in the lobby. I was stiff from two hours of driving, tired, and hungry, but if I were sick, I’d consider that a poor excuse for a doctor to refuse to see me. So I drove back to Anaheim. To my everlasting credit, I was entirely pleasant to the mother, waving off her excuses. The child had a cold.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Season

In the Pasadena Sheraton last Sunday, my phone rang for a visit in Irvine. Pasadena is twenty miles from home, Irvine fifty miles. I would miss supper by several hours, but the month before Christmas is slow, so I was pleased at another visit.

I often drive to Irvine but not from Pasadena, so I consulted Siri from my I-Phone. She directed me toward the nearest freeway but told me to turn off as I reached it. That didn’t seem right, but disobeying Siri is usually a bad idea. A drive through city streets to the Long Beach Freeway saved several miles but probably not much time.

I settled down for the trip before realizing with a shock that she was directing me toward the Santa Ana freeway. No one takes the Santa Ana freeway. It’s always jammed. Sure enough, as soon as I drove on, traffic slowed to a crawl.

I arrived after 1½ hours to face another irritation. The address, 2120 Waterbury, wasn’t a street address but suite 2120 at the Waterbury Apartments. Siri found the complex but getting to 2120 among the buildings was my job.

It was night. The guest was a traveler and unfamiliar with the area. There was no parking except in locked underground garages, so I couldn’t wander far from my car. Also (and I’m not making this up) it was raining. In the end, she came out and searched the streets until we encountered each other. The visit, as usual, was the easy part.

Leaving, I drove to the San Diego freeway, the sensible, if not the shortest, route from my house to Irvine. To my dismay, traffic was crawling. Weekends are usually OK, but I should have remembered that this was the Sunday before Christmas.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Another Easy Visit

I drove to Glendale to care for an elderly Argentine lady who had been vomiting. That can be a tricky problem in an old person, but she was recovering, so I felt comfortable leaving her with advice and medication.

During the visit, I had the experience of listening to someone with a thick Spanish accent denounce Mexicans. She had eaten in a Mexican restaurant and was certain the spicy food made her ill. Argentina is a country with extensive cattle ranches and a largely steak and potatoes diet. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Another Failure of Communication

“My son with pain in ear. Maybe he need a doctor.”

“I can come to the hotel.”

“Not today. I give medicine. Maybe if he has pain tomorrow.”

“So you’ll call me tomorrow?”

“Yes. Can you come in the morning?”



“I can be there between 9 and 12.”  Strictly speaking, I can come at any time, but I like to avoid driving during the rush hour.

“Three hours is too long. We want to visit the city.”

“You said you’d call tomorrow. When you call, I’ll tell you exactly when I’ll be there.”


Most guests who promise to call never call, so I put the matter out of my mind. After noon the following day, the phone rang. It was the concierge at that hotel. “I’m afraid we’ve had a complaint, Doctor Oppenheim,” she said. “Mr. Desai in 403 says he and his family have been waiting over three hours. Are you going to come?....”

Saturday, December 12, 2015

No American Would Have Such Good Insurance

Hearing a Hispanic accent, I assumed the caller was a travel insurer, and I was right. Standby M.D is one of the good agencies. It phones; I make the visit; I fax an invoice; it sends a check. Latin Americans make up most of my travel insurance patients.

A guest at the Sheraton had been awake all night with an earache. The call arrived at 4:30 a.m., but that’s almost my waking time. Freeway traffic was light. I arrived at his room in half an hour.

One thing seemed strange. His name sounded American, but this is not rare in many Latin American countries. But he also looked American and spoke American English. He told me his pain began soon after he boarded a plane in Managua.

“So you live in Nicaragua?” I asked.

“No. Vancouver,” he said.

The light dawned.

“Of course,” I added. “You’re Canadian. No American would have such good insurance.”   

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

More Evidence of America's Greatness

Opening an envelope from an international travel insurer, I expected a check but found a form letter containing a dozen boxes, each listing a reason why payment was denied. An “X” through one box revealed that I had not submitted my invoice on an HICF 1500 claims form.

That’s the form American doctors send to American health insurers. It’s hopelessly complex, full of codes, questions, boxes, and charges – far longer than my simple invoice. Despite this, it’s badly organized. One must enter today’s date three times.

I found a HICF form and filled it out, leaving many cryptic questions blank, guessing answers where I wasn’t certain, and inventing a long, fictional breakdown of my services because I charge a flat fee. An American insurance clerk would post it on the office bulletin board for general amusement.

Two weeks later, a check arrived. Foreign insurers are not up to speed, but they’re trying.

Friday, December 4, 2015

How to Get the Best of Both Worlds

A lady with a cold phoned for a doctor at 4 p.m. on a Tuesday.

From my home to hers in the Hollywood Hills required a thirteen mile drive through city streets (twice that on the freeway). I go during the rush hour but only for patients a good deal sicker. In her case, I would schedule a visit for 9 or 10 p.m.

Sadly, the lady hadn’t called me but Get Heal, a new service that promises a housecall within an hour and charges a flat $99.

It pays doctors $75 an hour, lower than the going rate, but provides a medical assistant who drives, a delightful perk. Unfortunately, the dispatcher explained, the medical assistant lived near my destination. Would I make the drive myself? Heal would pay extra. If not, Heal would send a cab.

I chose a cab. Fifteen minutes later an Uber car pulled up. We crept through traffic. The medical assistant was there when we arrived. I cared for the patient. We crept back.

Heal earned $99 for my two hours’ work, but I earned $150. The Uber driver earned half that. The driver, dispatcher, and a dozen other employees collected their salaries. Get Heal has an office in Santa Monica and an impressive web site.

Everyone agrees that $99 for a housecall is a money-loser. Perhaps this patient was an outlier, but none of the eight Heal housecalls I’ve made has taken less than an hour door-to-door.

If you need a housecall in Los Angeles, phone Get Heal and ask for Doctor Oppenheim. You’ll get the best of both worlds until one of us goes out of business.