Saturday, February 27, 2016

Screwing the Guest

A February 13 Craigslist ad is recruiting hotel doctors.

If you read this blog, you know that I keep track of new arrivals and offer to work for them. They often take me up on it because it’s not easy to find a doctor on the spur of the moment. 

A few hours after my response, the phone rang. The caller introduced himself, adding that he knew me, admired me, and was certain that I was a perfect hire.

He operated a concierge hotel doctor service in big cities, he explained. Clients were busy businessmen who absolutely could not interrupt work to be sick. His doctors made sure this happened through aggressive treatment and powerful drugs, perhaps more powerful than a doctor would use in an office. He asked what injectables I carried and suggested others. His doctors sutured lacerations, drained boils, administered IV fluids and breathing treatments, incised hemorrhoids – whatever a guest need to keep going.

The charge was $3250.

“They pay that?” I asked.

“Just about everyone,” he responded. “Because there’s NO OUT-OF-POCKET EXPENSE!” (I write in caps because his voice grew loud). “We deal mostly with foreign businessmen. They have travel insurance that pays whatever we bill, so I promise they’ll have NO OUT-OF-POCKET EXPENSE, and no one has complained.”

This was probably true. Aware of the rapacious American medical system, foreign insurers may be inured to spectacular bills.

When I asked about American guests, he segued seamlessly into another monologue. American insurers are less generous, but his service was vastly superior, effective, convenient, and cheaper than the five or ten thousand dollars charged at an emergency room. Hearing this, many paid and express gratitude afterward.

Unlike the previous harangue, this was not true, but I encounter it on web sites and publicity from competing hotel doctors. It puts me in a bad mood.

“So you’re not screwing the guests, you’re screwing the insurance companies.”

“Why shouldn’t I? They screw us!” he exclaimed, adding that many of his doctors are forced to work for him to make ends meet because of piddling insurance reimbursement. Surgeons who once made $1500 for repairing a hernia are now getting $1000.  

This did not improve my mood although I share his low opinion of American health insurers. Foreign insurers give me little trouble, but I’m not billing them $3250. 

“You’re selling yourself short,” he exclaimed after learning what I charge. I responded that I have no complaints about my income.

“You do realize you’re running a business,” he added on hearing that I don’t charge for phone calls. That’s probably true, but I’ve noticed that every doctor who announces that medicine is a business is an asshole.

He is not the first entrepreneur to discover that sick hotel guests, trapped in a strange city, are an easy mark and that foreign insurers are even easier. You can read about another on my September 3 post. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A Perfect Housecall

On Sunday I wrote for a few hours and then ate breakfast. My routine is to go to the gym afterward, but as I was leaving the phone rang. A travel insurer asked me to see a guest in Anaheim, near Disneyland, forty miles away. 

That was good news; not only did I have a visit but I could skip the gym. I don’t mind long drives provided the freeways move smoothly which is the case on Sunday morning, and the insurer agreed to pay extra for the distance.

Sure enough, the drive went quickly. The patient was a five year-old with an itchy rash on his legs, obviously atopic dermatitis. I informed the parents, explained how to care for his skin, and handed over a tube of hydrocortisone cream from my bag. They were pleased. I didn't hurry, but I doubt I spent ten minutes in the room. Sometimes this is an easy job.

Friday, February 19, 2016

A Wee-Hour Call

Two nights ago the phone rang at 3 a.m. An insurance agency wanted me to see a client with a sore throat at the Torrance Residence Inn. At 8:30 the following morning.

“Why did the agency call now?” I asked.

“I don’t know. They hung up.”

The operator gave me the patient’s information. The Torrance Residence Inn is fifteen miles away. I do not like long drives during the rush hour, so this was already a problem visit. If I went back to bed, I’d probably lay awake and fume.

Patients who phone for my services during the wee hours usually feel bad, so I took a chance and called the hotel. The guest was awake and feeling very bad. When I told her I could be there in 45 minutes, she was amenable. I threw on my clothes. The drive was easy. I gave her the necessary medicines. Everyone was satisfied.      

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Pinnacle of Success

Walking toward the entrance of the Viceroy, a luxury Santa Monica hotel, I noticed half a dozen parking valets gathered around their supervisor who was giving instructions. As I passed, he paused and pointed: “Look at him. That’s our hotel doctor. You let him park wherever he wants.”

This happened in July of 2003, but I still remember the pleasure it gave me. When the parking valets grant you a free pass, there are no more worlds to conquer.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

My Best Customer

I’m the doctor for scores of Los Angeles hotels, but even the largest (the Bonaventure) rarely generates five visits per month.

National housecall agencies and international travel insurers provide more business. My leading client is Inn House Doctor, a national agency run by an entrepreneur based near Boston. You can google it.

He solicits hotels, including mine, but they are not an important source of business. Since Inn House collects a cut of the fee, guests who call hear a large quote.

Many travel insurers use Inn House Doctor for their clients in America. It would make more sense for them to call me directly, but I earn my usual fee, so I don’t care. I prefer Inn House when guests live far away, because insurers often refuse to pay a larger fee. Inn House understands.

Its biggest clients are foreign airlines who need doctors for sick crew. In the past some airlines called me, but I’m happy to work for Inn House because it handles many more.

I don’t solicit distant hotels, but airlines, always searching for the best deal, may house crew fifty miles from the airport. I make half a dozen very long trips every month, but airline crew make excellent patients – not demanding and rarely very sick.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Free Medical Care

When guests ask my fee, I tell them and then steer the conversation to their problem. Half the time, they don’t need a visit. If so, they’re grateful for the advice, especially after learning that I don’t charge for phone calls. It’s good public relations, but I also don’t like to make a housecall and collect money for a trivial service.

If you google “house call doctor” plenty of eager individuals and national housecall services turn up but not me. None deliver free care, so the caller has the choice of a paying visit or nothing. A doctor (sometimes me if you call a national service) may come, hand over a prescription for a medicine you accidentally left at home, and then collect several hundred dollars.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

My Fifteen Minutes of Fame

Every five years or so, the Los Angeles Times discovers the housecall and publishes an enthusiastic article that doesn’t mention me, the nation’s leading housecall doctor.

Another appeared two days ago. As always, I wrote the reporter to point out his error. To my surprise, he phoned yesterday, interviewed me for half an hour, and wrote another article in today’s Times. You can find it at:

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A Dog-Eat-Dog Business, Part 12

On September 3 I wrote about a new housecall service that charged up to $2000. On September 7 I described one that charged $99. Clearly these are extreme. 

So what about $250? That’s painful but, in a pinch, suffering a stomach virus or bad case of flu, many of you might pay. 

What are the alternatives? Several concierge doctors pop up on a Google search, but they may charge triple this. Veteran Los Angeles hotel doctors visit private houses if asked; they charge around double. Call Heal, the $99 service, if it’s still in business. One side-effect of a low fee is that it pays doctors less than the going rate, so many are residents in training. This does not mean they don’t know their business; in fact, being residents, they take every illness very, very seriously. Of course, you could always ask for Doctor Oppenheim. 

The founder of the $250 service, SOS Doctor Housecall, contacted me first because I already work for her. She is the French lady who sends doctors to Frenchmen in Los Angeles. I mention her in posts from February 28, 2011, September 2, 2014, and January 4, 2015. 

She is putting together her app and hopes to launch soon. If she’s successful, my colleagues will feel the strain, but I’ll be making visits for her.