My hometown doctor, Dr. Samuel Shorter, knew my name when I was a child.
Now that might not seem like a big deal, but think about it for a moment. I wasn't always in his office, only when I occasionally broke my finger, turned my ankle or had a raving case of poison ivy.
But Dr. Shorter knew me. He knew what school I attended, what sports I played, and that I had a Labrador retriever named Prince. It wasn't like he didn't have important things happening in his own life. His son, Frank, was an avid runner who eventually won the Olympic marathon in 1972.
I couldn't really tell you how many patients he had, but it wasn't like he was taking care of a town of 150 folks. Middletown, N.Y., had more than 15,000 residents and he had a full schedule. Yet, each time I saw Dr. Shorter, whether in his office or on the street, he talked to me.
Fast forward to today in East County. Ask yourself this. If I stopped by to see my primary physician, would he or she know my name?
For those of you who have landed a really good one, the answer most likely is yes. For others, maybe not.
I know from my own experience that I had three appointments with my primary doctor and I have yet to meet him. I don't even know what he looks like. His assistants or interns handled the assignment, and believe me, I felt like an assignment.
So it was intriguing when I sat down to chat with Dr. Kinga Porter, who owns Whole Health in Lakewood Ranch. Dr. Porter — OK, rhymes with Shorter — was talking about what she believes to be our country's very broken medical system.
Dr. Porter, who also works full-time at Lakewood Ranch Medical Center, was a member of what she calls "the conventional medical process." After graduating in 2010 from LECOM here in Lakewood Ranch, and serving a residency in Detroit, she moved back to East County with the hope of developing relationships with her patients. It was her hope to become that old-time, family doctor that some of us knew so well.
Then she saw how the conventional medical process worked.
"It's all insurance-based," she said. "Half the staff was working there to satisfy insurance quotas. That's overhead going to non-medical costs."
To be successful, she explained, an office would need to increase the amount of patients they would see in a day, even if that meant the doctor would have very little time to give them.
"Most primary physicians are seeing 25 to 30 patients a day," she said. "That's four to six minutes of face-to-face time. It's very dissatisfying for both the doctor and the patient."
After three years, she said she felt like the proverbial chicken running around with her head chopped off.
"There is no way you can take care of that many patients in a day," she said.
So in 2016 she opened Whole Health at 11509 Palmbrush Trail. It's a one-doctor operation that does not accept insurance.
Yes, no insurance.
"I don't have the overhead," she said. "I don't have to fill out the paperwork."
In a visit to her office I saw one receptionist and Dr. Porter. Her husband, James Porter, handles the office's accounting.
The net result is she sees eight to 11 patients a day. She has the time to actually get to know them.
For the first 30-minute examination, Dr. Porter charges $200. Subsequent visits are billed by the hour. She said about 60% of her patients receive out-of-network reimbursements from their insurance companies.
Now I want to emphasize I have never had an appointment with Dr. Porter so this is not a testimonial. I do find her views on the medical industry fascinating and worth exploring.
Dr. Porter, who said she loves solving medical mysteries, sees medical reform coming in the future on a national level. In her view, the assembly-line lifestyle of primary physicians is chasing talented people out of the profession and fewer college students will want to follow that path for a career.
She believes more doctors will find her business model appealing.
"I get to engage my patients," she said. "I feel like I end up with a lot more families."