A sad fact of our current healthcare marketplace is that a large number of Americans can’t afford medical care other than in the emergency room. It’s impossible to have a private practice without considering those for whom even the basics of primary care are an unaffordable luxury.
Since I went into private practice six years ago, I made a commitment to volunteer caring for indigent patients. One afternoon every month I volunteer at the Simms/Mann Health and Wellness Center (formerly called the Burke Health Center) which is a clinic in Santa Monica operated by the Venice Family Clinic. Their internal medicine clinic is staffed by UCLA residents and supervised by attending faculty physicians, like me. It’s a great opportunity for me for lots of reasons. I interact with and teach UCLA residents (and remind myself that I was one just a decade ago). I demonstrate to residents (who are exposed mostly to role models who are employees of large medical groups) that they can build a career in which they work for their patients, not for administrators. Most importantly, I help care for patients who otherwise would have no access to care. I always look forward to my afternoons at Simms/Mann.
So if you call on the third Wednesday of every month and ask to see me in the afternoon, my receptionist will politely suggest a different time. Now you know why. This summer, after I withdraw from Medicare, I’ll start spending two afternoons a month there.
Will two afternoons a month fix the problem of indigent health care? No. But imagine what could happen if more doctors got out of their non-stop high-volume practice, spent more time with each patient, and then donated some time for patients who can afford nothing.