Friday, August 17, 2007

Solo on Vacation

One of the things doctors considering solo practice always want to know about is, "What about vacations? Who covers for you when you are out of town?" Some even wonder, "Can solo practitioners even go on vacation?"

In my 4th year of solo practice, I am again on vacation, this time visiting relatives on the East Coast.

In my first year of practice, I had so few patients (plus I didn't know any other solo physicians in the community that year) that I just went on vacation to Banff, Canada and had all my calls forwarded to my cellphone. No one noticed I was even out of town. But then again, I was only seeing about 1 patient a day that first summer. Seeing the Aurora Borealis and going horseback riding with my family are still unforgettable memories for me, and I am glad I was able to be with them.

By the 2nd year, I arranged for a couple of the local solo family physicians to cover for me when I went on vacation, and I agreed to reciprocate when they went out of town. It was mutually beneficial and I never got inundated with calls from the other doctors' patients. I know they didn't get a lot of calls from my patients since I made it clear I would still be accessible by cellphone and e-mail. But the longest trip I took that year was a 4 day trip to San Francisco for the Annual AAFP Conference.

By the 3rd year, I figured out how to access my office computer remotely so that I could receive faxed lab results and other reports as long as I had internet access. Hotel rooms with internet access are pretty common now. I got to go with my family to Walt Disney World and Bar Harbor, Maine last year.

This year is a little different in that I do not have cellphone access where I am staying, so I have to call in on a landline to both my office and cellphone lines to check for any messages periodically throughout the day. Fortunately, there have been few messages, hopefully because all my patients are feeling well.

Summer tends to be a slow time of year for visits to the doctor, anyways. One of these days, I'd like to try doing an online visit using my iSight video camera and maybe I won't ever have to be on vacation at all. But wait, that's probably not a good thing, is it?

Still I wonder which option more people would prefer: seeing their own doctor via online videocamera or being seen by a unfamiliar midlevel provider in a Walmart clinic? Time will tell.

For longer vacations, I have heard of other doctors using locum tenens services. Maybe someday I'll take a long enough vacation to consider that.

I have been able to spend some of my vacation catching up on my reading. I had gotten Stardust before I realized that it was being made into a movie. Luckily I finished reading it before I read any negative/positive movie reviews and my review of the book is Two Thumbs Up. I also plan to try to implement some of the elements of the Getting Things Done system with the donationware iGTD program. One can dream, after all....

In the meantime, I already have 13 patients scheduled for next week. But for now, still on vacation for a few more days.