Giving A Helping Hand To Colleagues In Need
I ran into a young family physician in the hospital last week. He is one of the sharpest new doctors in our community and refers to podiatrists often. He looked terrible and seemed almost in shock. He let me know his job had just been terminated at the clinic where he was employed. He had one day to discharge his patients from the hospital or turn them over to other physicians. He was being replaced by a physician’s assistant.
The bad stuff that our profession dealt with in the 1990s because of health care reform is still happening to our MD friends. We often complained during the ‘70s and ‘80s about being held at an arm’s length from the mainstream medical community because of our DPM degrees. That may have been our salvation.
Small medical clinics and doctors’ offices were swallowed up by big medical centers and HMOs during the ‘90s. It was rare that a podiatry office was pursued. We had to tough out the reform years on our own. Some podiatrists went under and quit the profession. Those of us who survived learned to be lean, mean and efficient. When the smog of health care reform began to lift, many of the medical conglomerates were financially weak and collapsed under their own weight. Many of our MD friends became jobless.
It’s hard to have sympathy for the profession that has held ours back for so many decades but we have an opportunity in all this mess. The Neurotic’s Handbook says, “Be kind to your enemies. It will drive them nuts.” We have a rare opportunity to help our MD friends and it will create a bond that will benefit podiatry for many years.
After speaking with my young MD friend who had just lost his job, I went back to my office and talked to my partner. I suggested we offer the MD use of our clinic until he starts an office on his own. My partner was concerned we would burn referral bridges with the clinic that fired the young man. I reminded him most of the referrals came from our out-of-work colleague.
We made the offer. The young MD was emotionally overwhelmed at our generosity and is giving the matter some thought while he weighs his options. Wherever he goes, I suspect podiatrists will be his referral choice for foot problems.
Offering the use of office space isn’t the only way to help struggling medical doctors. A large HMO insurance plan decided to terminate its contracts with most of the internists in my community. These physicians had filled their practices with deeply discounted capitation-based patient care. Most had to stop accepting new patients from any source because of full appointment schedules. The HMO dropped the internists and left them with no patient base.
I heard of their situation and realized I could help. Many of my patients were healthy middle-aged individuals with good indemnity insurance coverage. Since they were in good health, they did not have primary care physicians. They tended to get medical care at urgent care clinics or seek out specialists on their own.
I began suggesting they establish themselves with internists or family physicians. I would provide them with a list of my internist friends who now had openings for new patients. The patients appreciated the leads on good physicians and the internists appreciated the referrals from such an unlikely source, a podiatrist. The physicians did not forget me when it was time to refer one of their patients for podiatry care.
The young family practice physician whom I mentioned earlier stopped by my clinic a couple of days ago. The hospital is going to provide space for him until he gets his own clinic built. He thanked me for my support in his troubled situation. I suspect I will see many referrals from him for a long time.
Primary physicians have been known to help podiatrists. When the podiatry clinic of my friend Stephen Miller, DPM, burned to the ground a couple of years ago, the doctors in Anacortes, Wash. invited him to use their offices to see patients until he put up a new building.
Podiatrists are very much members of the medical community. We need to take every opportunity to build strong alliances and friendships with our primary care colleagues. Let’s hope we are always as helpful to our fellow podiatrists. Take a look around you and see if there is another doctor who needs your help. With an accident of fate, any of us could be the doctor in need.