Industry Update
Opinion Article22 October 2019

Screwing the Guest - The Life of a Hotel Doctor

By Mike Oppenheim, MD

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Oppenheim

A Craigslist ad was recruiting hotel doctors.

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I keep track of new arrivals and offer to work for them. They often take me up on it because it's not easy to find a doctor on the spur of the moment.

A few hours after my query, the phone rang. The caller introduced himself, adding that he knew me, admired me, and was certain that I was a perfect hire.

He explained that he operated a concierge hotel doctor service in our largest cities. Clients were busy businessmen who absolutely could not interrupt work to be sick. His doctors made sure this didn't happen through aggressive treatment and powerful drugs, perhaps more powerful than they would use in an office. His doctors sutured lacerations, drained boils, administered IV fluids and breathing treatments, incised hemorrhoids - whatever a guest needed to keep him going.

The charge was $3250.

"They pay that?" I asked.

"Just about everyone," he responded. "Because there's NO OUT-OF-POCKET EXPENSE!" (I write in caps because his voice grew loud). "We deal mostly with foreign businessmen. They have travel insurance that pays whatever we bill, so I promise they'll have NO OUT-OF-POCKET EXPENSE, and no one has complained."

This was probably true. Aware of the rapacious American medical system, foreign insurers may be inured to spectacular bills.

When I asked about American guests, he segued seamlessly into another monologue. Our insurers are less generous, he admitted, but his service was vastly superior, effective, convenient, and cheaper than the five or ten thousand dollars charged at an emergency room. Hearing this, many paid up front and expressed gratitude afterward.

"So if you're not screwing the guests, you're screwing the insurance companies."

"Why shouldn't I? They screw us!" he exclaimed, adding that many of his doctors are forced to work for him to make ends meet because of piddling insurance reimbursement. Surgeons who once made $1500 for repairing a hernia are now getting $1200.

"You're selling yourself short," he exclaimed after learning what I charge. I responded that I have no complaints about my income.

He is not the first entrepreneur to discover that sick hotel guests, trapped in a strange city, are an easy mark and that foreign insurers are even easier.

Mike Oppenheim

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.

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