Monday, May 4, 2009

Membership



When I arrived at my office this morning, I had a walk-in patient waiting for me. In the winter months, it’s not unusual for a parent to try to “jump the line” and want to be seen first thing, and I try my best to accommodate parent and patient. I had promised to do a medicine re-check for my nurse’s child after I made morning hospital rounds today so that we could get her child to school, and my nurse back to work. My partner saw the walk-in who had stalked Lori, my scheduler, at the back door forty-five minutes prior to my arrival, while I saw my scheduled re-check.


Sometimes parents believe that medicine is a club – one that you can join if you have the right political affiliations or money or a very important job. Membership in this club gets them exclusive bonuses –kind of like frequent flyer miles or box tops – bonuses that include a physician’s home phone number or pager and the right to call them any time of day or night. Occasionally a parent will ask for my direct number- sometimes with a smile or a giggle as they promise not to call me at 2 AM for a diaper rash or spit-up. Acceptance into this club also allows members to talk about their child’s sex education in Starbucks, or ask for antibiotics (just in case) whenever they are leaving the country for Turks and Caicos for the next two weeks.


Being truthful with myself, I accept that I am part of a club of sorts. When my triage service calls about a family friend who bit his tongue and needed advice about whether to go to the ER or not, I call the family because they‘re friends, and they would show the same concern for my children. I’ve also referred my brother-in-law with appendicitis to Dr. Ileum because he’s a friend and I know he’ll take good care of my relative. I’ve also met a fellow partner and her child in the middle of the night when she suspected her daughter had new onset Type 1 diabetes. (She was right!) My family and close friends (I can count the number of families on one hand) are default members, and they know there are rules about membership.


The notion of an exclusive membership or concierge medicine doesn’t sit well with me. As humanly possible, I try to treat my patients as well and equally as I would treat my own family or friends regardless of socioeconomic status. There are boundaries, though, and limit pushers that make me put my foot down. I won’t write prescriptions on the fly for administrator or staff’s children anymore when I’m trying to make hospital rounds. It’s not fair to my patients to get distracted like that. I cannot prevent a patient with lice showing up on Sunday morning on my front porch, but I won’t let them expose my kids. My phone has caller ID, and we screen the calls heavily, so when I’m not on call, I’m focused on my family, and my personal time. It’s all part of a balancing act that I’ve had to learn bit by bit.

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