Times they are a-changing. My dad wouldn’t have liked what’s happening. C. A. Hoffman, Jr. was an old-school physician. Often, to the chagrin of his office staff, he spent real time with his patients. Five o’clock would come and go. His office was busy and filled with his laughter and booming voice. A ringing office phone made him happy. There was a blackboard in his office. It had to be white with chalk, covered with his “To Do” list.
When I visited the office, I would sit on a strange-looking metal safe and watch him as he went from room to room. That safe was so heavy that no one could move it. It just sat for years in the middle of the busy office front, taking up space and getting in the way. Dad had an answering service to take calls after hours. The service would call our house in the middle of the night and on holidays. No matter when, he would return his patient’s calls and order prescriptions for them. If it was an emergency he would direct them to the Emergency Room of the hospital. Then he would get up and meet them there.
He worried about his patients. If he lost a patient, I would know about it because he would be incredibly sad.When he died, there was a line of people that wound around the funeral home, waiting to speak to my family. I don’t know how many hands I shook that night or how many times I heard, “your father saved my child” or “if it hadn’t been for your father, I wouldn’t be here today.” After he died, my family opened up that safe. There were thousands of invoices that he had just slipped into the safe and forgotten. Many, many of his patients received his care for free. My father is not the only physician I have known to do this. My pediatrician was another. He did not die a rich man, but he was dearly loved. Now when I go to the doctor’s office, I’m expected to pay at least the copay, before receiving care. If I couldn’t pay, would I get to speak to the MD? No; I would have to explain my financial situation to someone at the front desk in front of the other patients. Probably, I wouldn’t get to see the physician. When I call the doctor’s office after hours, an answering service takes the call. My call is directed to a nurse on call who is looking at my records on line. S/he doesn’t know me. If it is an emergency, I’m sent to the Urgent Care Center. I don’t see my physician.My father opposed universal health insurance, calling it “socialized medicine.” But I wonder what he would say if he saw medicine as it is practiced today.Many say the change in medicine is due to the terrible financial burden most medical students incur to become physicians. I’m afraid I don’t see it that way. I believe that medicine has become a business and generosity has no substantial place in the business paradigm. Nowadays, I believe we need universal health coverage because there are so few “old school” physicians left. They are a dying breed.