Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Good Doctor is Out Not Out

A local family doctor retired last month. While I have never met Dr. Riley, he epitomizes what many think of when a family doctor comes to mind:

"I was 6 years old when he stitched up my chin and he's been my doctor ever since," said Mart Brower, Jr., who is now 54. "He's been there for me all these years."

"He's a very generous man. If you don't got it, you get it anyway, you know what I mean," said Thomas Herod, a patient for 27 years. "He's more like a friend than a doctor. You can talk to him about anything."

Herod's wife, Gloria, agreed. "He's like the old family doctors they used to have years ago," she said. "He's not just business. He's very friendly."

"You did not sit in his waiting room a half an hour waiting to be seen," said Mildred Hawkins, a longtime patient and former employee. "He put you in there and got you out."

Riley said he always made an effort to be available to patients.

"I tried to be not only a doctor and treat everybody well, but to become a friend," he said. "Many people say they can't reach their doctor and he never returns their calls. I've never done that."


Riley said he liked the variety of family medicine. "If I were in a specialty where I had to look at people's feet all day, or mouths all day, I'd go crazy," he said. "Every patient is new and every patient is different."

Riley also kept his days varied by writing. While maintaining his practice, he also published a novel, a book of poetry ("all mushy love poems," he said), a collection of short horror stories, and two collections of funny anecdotes he encountered in his practice.

I bet if Dr. Riley were still practicing, he'd have a blog.
His patients said they will miss his combination of patience, warmth and long experience.

He is "the opposite of how today's doctors are," said Frankii Elliot, who came in for a checkup on Riley's last day as a doctor. "He'd take his time with you. He'd sit there until you were done. It's a huge loss."

Read the rest here.

Fortunately, Dr. Riley is not the last of his kind. A new breed of physicians is slowly appearing that aims to revive the old-fashioned notion that a good relationship between a physician and a patient is essential to good medical care.
Dr. Doug Roberts spent years working for the mega-health care corporations, the ones that force doctors to treat patients like a fork-lift driver treats cartons in a warehouse. As he cared for those who came to him for help, he gradually developed a better idea. Now he has put it into practice, and he expects that other physicians will follow.

Roberts and a couple of other doctors have, as he puts it, "hung up a shingle" in Sacramento. By careful management and cutting overhead dramatically, he and his colleagues are able to dispense good medical care out of small offices. Their guiding principle, Roberts says, is that the doctor takes responsibility for and develops a long-term relationship with his patient.
There is one exam room. The doctors use a computer for medical records, which eliminates filing and "saves the need for another room to store charts."

"The technology has allowed me to go back" to the days when doctors focused on patients and not paperwork and bureaucracy. "I take an hour with each new patient, half an hour with everyone else." Roberts estimates that he has reduced overhead by as much as 70 percent.
He stresses that a happy doctor is good for the system. "I get a lot of enjoyment," he says. That includes working three long days and taking off the other two, so he can spend more time with his children, who are 3, 5, and 9. "I can't tell you how nice it is to stay at home two days." The doctors cover for one another when the situation calls for it.

"Job satisfaction," Roberts says, "is better for everybody."

The rest of Dr. Roberts' story is here