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.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Be Careful What You Ask For

He had been coughing for several days, a guest explained, adding that he probably needed a Z-pak. When a patient suggests he needs an antibiotic, a doctor feels one of two emotions.

(1) Pleasure because this guarantees an easy visit. Give the antibiotic, and the patient will make it clear that the doctor has done what a good doctor does. I doubt most of you realize the importance of your gratitude. No matter how you try to conceal it, if you’re disappointed, we feel depressed.

(2) Depression. In an otherwise healthy person, the only common illness with a cough that antibiotics cure is bacterial pneumonia which is not common. All others are viral infections. These affect fifteen percent of everyone who consults a doctor, so they are no trivial matter.

Over the phone, I quizzed him about his symptoms and then explained that he was suffering a self-limited illness requiring only over-the-counter remedies. When he insisted that he needed a doctor, I directed him to a nearby urgent care clinic where he would get his antibiotic.

Monday, January 25, 2016

How Doctor Oppenheim Met His Wife

In 1975 I and a friend were fresh out of internship. He had a job at a Los Angeles clinic that remained open during the weekend. Few patients came, so I often visited, and we sat talking. The only other employee, a nurse – really a young woman who wore a white coat and acted as receptionist -- joined us. After a few visits I got up the nerve to ask her on a date.

She was committed, she explained. But she worked at the Woman’s Building, a flourishing feminist arts center. She offered to give me some phone numbers.

I declined. I was too shy to call women I didn’t know.

“Then what’s the solution?” she asked.

“Maybe they could call me.” I meant this as a joke and forgot about it until a week later when a woman phoned. I did my duty by asking her to dinner, and it proved an excellent decision.

There is more to it. It turns out that she and the nurse were candidates for a college art teaching position in Oakland. Both flew up for an interview. My future wife later learned that the nurse had already sewn up the job, so there was no point in the interview. During the plane ride, she had given me an enthusiastic recommendation, perhaps as a consolation prize. 

When we discussed how our lives and the nurse’s had progressed over the years, we agreed that my wife had gotten the better deal. 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Dog-Eat-Dog Business, Part 11

“This is Doctor Oppenheim,” I repeated several times before hanging up. Caller ID identified the Doubletree in Santa Monica, so I phoned to ask if someone had requested a doctor. Someone had.

“You answered, but you couldn’t hear me,” said the guest. “So I called the front desk again, and they gave me a different number. Another doctor is coming.”

That was upsetting because the Doubletree is one of my regulars. When asked, the guest gave me the 800 number of Hotel Doctors International, a service based in Miami.

“How much are they charging?” I asked.

“I don’t know. They just asked if I had insurance.”

That was a red flag. Many hotel doctors charge spectacular fees – and then assure guests that travel insurance will reimburse them. This rarely works with Americans, but foreigners make up half of our business including mine. Helpless and ill, forewarned of our rapacious medical system, they rarely make a fuss.

I told the guest that my fee was $250 and that he should call the agency and ask what it charged. It turned out to be $650 (far from the largest I’ve heard), so I made the housecall.

Afterward, standing on tiptoes to peer over the front desk, I saw the colorful business card of Hotel Doctors International stuck on the counter. The clerk, who had insisted that mine was the only number she knew, expressed surprise when I pointed it out.  

Sunday, January 17, 2016

All In a Day's Work

“She speaks Spanish. I’m not sure what’s going on, but she wants a doctor.”

The caller was the night manager at the Torrance Marriott. The hotel rarely calls, but I go regularly for crew of LAN, Chilean Airlines. An LAN crewperson who falls ill is supposed to call her supervisor who calls the central office who calls Federal Assist, a travel insurer, who calls Inn House Doctor, a national housecall agency who calls its answering service who then calls me. The guest hadn’t followed the procedure. If I made a housecall at her request, getting paid would be a major hassle.

I phoned the answering service which had no idea what do. I phoned Federal Assist who insisted it wasn’t responsible for arranging visits, but a dispatcher finally agreed to call the guest. I phoned the director of Inn House Doctor to alert him to the problem. Then I waited.

It was 6 a.m. It’s dangerous to make these housecalls before official approval because it may never arrive. But the rush hour was about to begin, and I couldn’t resist. I jumped in my car and drove twenty miles to the Marriott. The freeway moved smoothly, but two blocks before the hotel, barriers and police cars blocked traffic. A dead body had been found on the street. That I was a doctor making a housecall did not persuade the guard. No cars could pass.        

I parked and walked toward the hotel. A policeman hurried over as I passed the barrier, but he accepted my explanation and escorted me past the tent concealing the body.

The visit was easy, and official approval arrived while I was in the room. When I finished at 7:30, my sigalert revealed a solid red line of jammed freeway for my return. But I was in luck. I had been awake since 2 a.m. making the visit described in my last post on January 13.  So I returned to my car, tilted the seat back, and went to sleep.