We baby boomers grew up with a Marcus Welby-type doctor who knew our history and cared about us. I’m lucky enough to still have Robert Young as my dentist. Nowadays, most doctors, driven by economics, spend an average of six minutes with a patient. Unfortunately, my internist fits this mold.
My 60-something dentist epitomizes all the good things about medical practice from my childhood. As you might expect, his affable wife works in his office. If I have a toothache, an opening materializes in his schedule. There is no dental hygienist to lecture me about how I could have been more diligent with my brushing. My dentist still does everything himself—from cleanings to root canals. Within moments of my arrival, I’m laying back in the oversized chair and he’s ready to start eradicating plaque. Should he spot a stain on one of my pearly whites, he’ll take a wait-and-see approach, rather than immediately shooting me up with Novocain and cranking up the drill. Maximizing profits is not the goal here. My dentist just loves practicing his craft. I hope he never retires.
Contrast him to my internist; the epitome of today’s treating physician. The paramount concern, before any treatment is rendered, is that his patients sign consent and waiver forms, including an agreement not to file a civil suit for malpractice. I delivered the completed forms, as instructed, hoping that my reward would be that I’d only have to page through one copy of People Magazine before being called to the inner sanctum. No such luck. As the 30-minute mark approached, my name was finally called. I was then processed by his office staff, who weighed me, stuck a thermometer in my mouth and applied the blood pressure cuff. When my doctor finally appeared, he greeted me, determined the purpose of my visit, and immediately turned his attention to writing my yearly orders for prescription refills, a mammogram and blood work. The “examination” consisted of listening to my heart and breath sounds, with a stethoscope placed under my unzipped jacket. I never graced the exam table or removed a stich of clothing. Our only conversation concerned which blood lab and imaging center I preferred. I was on my way in less than six minutes.
How sad that today’s health care practitioners have been relegated to protecting themselves from lawsuits and writing script. What happened to treating patients? I want Dr. Welby back.