This column gives the impression that I'm a skilled, caring physician.

Am I really that good?... Asked to make a case, I might mention several diagnostic coups, but anecdotes are the lowest form of evidence. Don't believe any claim backed by an anecdote. Still, I'm confident that I'm at least better than average.

I mention this because readers often ask me to be their doctor. Since I make housecalls exclusively, I can't be anyone's family doctor.

These requests bring up a serious problem: how do you find a good doctor? Searching the internet turns up an avalanche of physicians yearning to care for you. All seem humane, state of the art, eager to serve. Why isn't the choice easy? The answer, of course, is that these are advertisements: fawning and phony. It's almost impossible for doctors to advertise without appearing shifty. They invariably point out their expertise, but you take that for granted. They extol their warmth, dedication, compassion. That sounds creepy, but they can't resist.

I'm not after your business. I don't try to make you healthier. I give medical advice but only if it contradicts what you hear elsewhere or seems amusing.

I enjoy describing life as a hotel doctor and delivering opinions on the world, mostly as it relates to medicine. I write what I want although my wife exerts a modest influence (almost always by saying "you can't post that...").

I'm often the hero of my stories, but they're mostly day-to-day events, some of which I wish hadn't happened. The result is that I come across as a real human being. Why shouldn't I? I'm a good writer. Most doctors can't write; neither can their advertising agencies.

Terrific doctors aren't rare. Their patients know who they are, so the best way to find one is to poll people you know. Asking doctors is OK, because they're unlikely to name anyone bad, but they prefer their friends. The only terrific doctors I know are those I've seen in action - most often caring for me. Ask around.

Mike Oppenheim