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Posted at 2:39 PM ET, 10/22/2009

My Health-Care Story: Paging Dr. Popular

By editors

By Adam Ross

If my primary-care physician was in high school, he’d be voted prom king.

I called his office last week hoping to set up an appointment for a physical and to get something that had been worrying me checked out. I was told I could be seen sometime in January.

“Will that be okay?” the receptionist asked.

“Um, not exactly,” I said. “How can that be?”

“He’s quite popular,” she said. “But let me see what I can do.”

She fiddled with her computer for about 12 seconds (I timed her), then gleefully told me, as though she had just parted the Red Sea, that she could “sneak” me in on Dec. 28.

It didn’t seem to occur to her that she wasn’t being much help. Instead, she asked me if I would be around then, given that the appointment fell during the holiday traveling season.

I told the receptionist “thanks, but no thanks,” and was left wondering how in the world it could be ethical for my doctor to have so many patients. But I couldn’t get too angry, because when it comes to health care, everyone has a story, and most of them are much worse than mine. Now I’ll start the arduous process of finding a new doctor. This will be the fourth or fifth primary care physician I’ve had in as many years.

I’m usually forced to find a new doctor, either because I have to switch insurance companies due to the cost or because my doctor stops accepting my coverage. Whatever the reason, unless I strike it rich and get one of those “Cadillac” plans, I’m going to have to take my medicine the same way I take my sports. There are going to be some good years and some bad years, and the results are completely out of my control.

But at least, in this instance, I’m not stuck cursing Congress for the partisan bickering that has held up health-care reform for so many years. I can just curse my doctor for being too cool for school.

The writer is a producer.

By editors  | October 22, 2009; 2:39 PM ET
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Mr. Ross wrote "I told the receptionist 'thanks, but no thanks,' and was left wondering how in the world it could be ethical for my doctor to have so many patients."

Answer: he limits his practice in a commonsense way. The odds are he does all he can do and still remain a good doctor.

If a person does not want to wait to be seen by this doctor, that person has the freedom to find another doctor. Because the U.S. is still a free country, the supply of good doctors is ultimately based on abilities, morals, and life satisfactions, juggled over many years, inherent in one's becoming and remaining a good doctor. Idealism and realism regarding what can be done repeatedly clash during those years.

Be glad you are not 74 years old, live in England or Canada and need a hip or knee operation now. You probably would have to wait months. In addition, everywhere, people's demands or desires sometimes approach the infinite, such as walking in to the emergency room at 2 AM, saying "I couldn't sleep. I want a complete physical now."

We, humanity, are strange critters.

Posted by: OldDoc | October 22, 2009 5:15 PM | Report abuse

I always tell the receptionist what I am concerned about. Sometimes I get an appointment in 6 weeks, sometimes in a day or two.

You ought to throw the responsibility onto the doctor and the office, so that they can suggest how you should deal with your problem.

Posted by: bvro | October 22, 2009 10:09 PM | Report abuse

Why is it necessary to have a physical immediately ? Are you fearful of something ? I have to wait for non urgent visits but it doesn't bother me. I'm thankful that when I do have an urgent need that the doctor has saved slots for this. As far as the clown BSing about Canada or the UK and Hips and such, if the need is urgent (like a broken hip after a fall) it is taken care of quickly. Many of these problems have taken years to develop and are not in need of urgent care. Go peddle your misinformation elsewhere.

Posted by: Falmouth1 | October 23, 2009 7:23 AM | Report abuse

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