On being ... sold

By Ingrid Sapona

When I moved here over 20 years ago I found my dentist -- Dr. M -- through a good friend. I liked Dr. M from the very first visit and I stuck with him. I was so pleased with my friend’s recommendation of Dr. M, I also signed on with her GP. I went to that doctor for a couple years, but I never felt completely comfortable with her. When she moved her practice to the suburbs I decided to try to find someone closer. At the urging of a doctor friend, I got a few names and I basically interviewed them. I struck gold through that process when I found Dr. E. I loved her manner and I felt comfortable enough to discuss anything with her.

One of the things I took into consideration when I was looking for a doctor and dentist was their age. Though there’s something reassuring about a parental figure -- I wanted someone who wouldn’t be retiring for awhile because I didn’t want to be doctor shopping again too soon. I’m not a great judge of age, but I figured Dr. M and Dr. E were only a few years older than me. Did I mention it was about 20 years ago that I found them?

Three years ago when I went for my annual physical Dr. E was not there. She had broken her hip (while running, of all things!) and was out of commission. I had the choice of re-scheduling the physical months later when Dr. E was back or seeing a substitute that Dr. E had found. I kept the appointment and I liked the sub – she had a similar, approachable style.

Then, about a year ago, I got a letter from Dr. E explaining she was retiring early but that she had found someone to take over her practice. In the letter she introduced Dr. L, telling us about her background and experience. She also explained how we could get our records transferred if we didn’t want to go to the new doctor. Dr. E’s office even had an open house for patients to meet Dr. L. Though I was quite devastated by Dr. E’s retirement, the way she handled the transition made me feel I was being left in good hands.

Earlier this month I had a dental appointment. As the appointment approached, I was surprised Dr. M’s office didn’t call to remind me about it, as they usually do. Finally, the day before the appointment I got a voice mail reminder. The caller (a voice I didn’t recognize) also mentioned “some changes”, including that the office had moved and that a Dr. Y had bought the practice from Dr. M, who had semi-retired.

Stunned, I phoned the office. After making sure I understood exactly where the new office was, Dr. Y’s receptionist assured me I’d still see my normal hygienist. That was great, I told her, but I wanted to see Dr. M. She said that shouldn’t be a problem because, as it happened, Dr. M would be in that day and she’d make sure he’d see me.

While I was with the hygienist, Dr. M popped his head in and said hello. When the hygienist was done, Dr. Y came in and introduced himself and proceeded to examine me. When he was done, I mentioned I wanted to see Dr. M. He mumbled something under his breath but said that would be fine and he dispatched the hygienist to get Dr. M.

When she came back and said Dr. M. was busy, I said I’d be happy to wait at reception until he was free. I could tell this didn’t set well, but I didn’t care. A few minutes later I was ushered into Dr. M’s office. Dr. M clearly thought I was there for his opinion on my dental health, but I told him that wasn’t my main concern.

I explained that I found it odd that he hadn’t sent a letter or anything. He sighed and explained that he planned on doing so and had written one but that Dr. Y asked him not to send it. Instead, apparently, Dr. Y agreed to give a copy of the letter to patients when they came in. Well, despite having had my exam and having paid, I wasn’t given any letter.

Dr. M was apologetic and asked his assistant to get me a copy of it. While we were waiting he explained that he didn’t think it was appropriate to mail a letter before the deal closed but he planned on sending one immediately afterward. But, once the sale was complete, Dr. Y pointed out that, strictly speaking, the patients were no longer Dr. M’s and Dr. Y didn’t want the letter sent. Dr. Y’s rationale was that he thought a letter might prompt patients to go elsewhere, especially since the office itself had relocated.

I told Dr. M that I disagreed with that decision and I explained that, if anything, the way it was handled left me feeling abandoned, not to mention wondering about Dr. Y’s credentials. In essence, I wanted to hear something from Dr. M that would make me feel reassured about the person to whom my care was being entrusted.

On an intellectual level I know medicine is a business and that practices are “bought and sold”, but as a patient I don’t appreciate being made to feel that I’m a commodity that’s just part of a deal. And, having been part of two such sales in the past year, I can tell you there’s more to buying a practice than buying a roster of names. Or, to put it another way, when a doctor buys a practice he ought to realize that patients must be “sold” on being treated by the new guy and that that sale isn’t about business.

© 2009 Ingrid Sapona


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