A Dog-Eat-Dog Business, Part 11 - The Life of a Hotel Doctor
By Mike Oppenheim, MD
"This is Doctor Oppenheim," I repeated several times before hanging up. Caller ID identified the Doubletree in Santa Monica, so I phoned to ask if someone had requested a doctor. Someone had.
That was upsetting because the Doubletree is a regular. When asked, the guest gave me the 800 number of Hotel Doctors International, a service based in Miami.
"How much are they charging?" I asked.
"I don't know. They just asked if I had insurance."
That was a red flag. Many hotel doctor agencies charge spectacular fees and then assure guests that medical insurance will reimburse them. Few Americans fall for this, but foreigners make up half of our business including mine. Helpless and ill, forewarned of our rapacious medical system, they rarely make a fuss.
I told the guest my fee and then urged him to call the agency to ask what it charged. That always works, and I made the housecall. You might think that a lower fee gives me a competitive advantage, but it doesn't. Hotels usually don't know what the doctor charges. It's my impression that they don't care.
Afterward, standing on tiptoes to peer over the front desk, I saw the colorful business card of Hotel Doctors International stuck on the counter. The clerk, who had insisted that mine was the only number the hotel used, expressed surprise when I pointed it out.
In his regular column "The Life of a Hotel Doctor", Mike Oppenheim shares remarkable stories around visiting hotel guests as a doctor. When he began as a hotel doctor during the 1980s, only luxury hotels had a “house doctor,” usually a local practitioner who did it as a sideline. Nowadays, in a large city even the lowliest motel receives blandishments from a dozen individuals plus several agencies that send moonlighting doctors if they can find one.More from Mike Oppenheim