Direct Primary Care – The Moment I Finally Made the Switch

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I like my doctor. I really do.

We’ve been together for over a decade now. Oh sure, I only see him once or twice a year unless I get sick. And, sure, it’s pretty tough to schedule a timely appointment. I understand I’m not the only patient he has and that he can’t really afford to spend too much time with me during those infrequent visits. I don’t really mind that he continues to call me Robert – though no one else on the planet does.

I guess I don’t really mind that it’s never actually him who calls me back with an answer to a question I’ve phoned in. I will say, however, that asking subsequent follow-up questions through an intermediary is less than ideal – no offense to capable, well-intended staff. But, I really do like him and I think he is a good doctor.

Nothing is perfect, right?

As I turned the corner and headed north of 50 years old, I began to feel like I wanted a little more from this relationship. (I’ll resist the temptation to say, “It’s not him…it’s me.”) As I looked toward retirement, I realized that my health is my most important asset. I had begun to feel more and more like a number to his practice – like just a customer.

To be clear, I wasn’t mistreated in any way but I didn’t feel like I was all that “visible” either. I was feeling like I wanted more of a partner – someone a bit more engaged in my ongoing health instead of just a provider. I was already kind of feeling this way.

And then something happened.

 
I had my annual physical just two months before (it lasted a quality 13 minutes.) My blood pressure was running a little high (as it has been since high school – I’ve always been on the top end of normal) so we decided to add a little medication to my daily regimen. The doctor sent me a letter a couple weeks later re-capping the things we talked about and giving me the results of my lab work.

Two months later, I began receiving those annoying automated calls reminding me of an upcoming appointment and warning me that I’d be charged if I didn’t show up. I didn’t remember making the appointment (not to mention why) but I showed up.

I went super early in the morning for lab work before a mid-afternoon appointment. I was told my lab results should be ready by the time I saw the doctor (a fairy tale) but mainly I went early so I could eat.

When I checked in for my appointment, the conversation started like this:

Receptionist: Do you have your medication list?

Me: Don’t you still have it in your records? We just did this 60 days ago.

Then I asked the receptionist if she could tell me why I was there.

She couldn’t.

 
After spending a good bit of time in the waiting room, I was “taken back” about 30 minutes after my appointment time. My weight was measured on the way into the examination room, as per normal. I hate that part. The nurse took my temperature and blood pressure, as per normal.

She then said to me, “What brings you in today?” And I said, “Funny, I was going to ask you the same question.” Perplexed, she looked at the papers in her hand and said, “‘Nurse Requested’ is checked, but I didn’t request it. Hang on. I’ll be right back.”

She returned and basically hemmed and hawed. No substantial answer.

Fifteen minutes later, my doctor arrives. “Hello, Robert.” I could tell by the way his eyes averted mine that he couldn’t tell me why I was there either. I assume the nurse had gone out to ask him. The next three minutes were spent with him essentially reading the report from my physical – reading aloud the letter he had sent me two months ago. I kid you not. He then told me that my lab results from that morning weren’t ready yet (big surprise) and that he’d send me another letter.

To be fair, I believe he was embarrassed. I believe that he was thinking, “Geez, what am I doing here?” Doctor burnout, by the way, is rising at an alarming rate.

No one could tell me why I was there.

On my way out, the checkout person says, “OK, let’s schedule your next appointment.”

“Thank you”, I said, “but no.”

My very next spoken words were, “Siri, show me Direct Primary Care doctors in Atlanta.”

 

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