Time with the Doctor: Happy Doc Family Medicine in Salem Gives Patients a Different Experience

Dr. Lara Knudsen opened the clinic in April to make sure her patients have the quality time they deserve rather than feeling rushed.
June 24, 2013 -- Patients visiting Happy Doc Family Medicine, a new “micropractice” in Salem, will quickly notice that it doesn’t look or feel like a typical clinic. There's no receptionist, no medical assistant, and the waiting room is more for looks than for waiting. But what really sets the clinic apart is time, the time Dr. Lara Knudsen gives her patients to listen, to get to know them, to make sure they leave their appointment with all of their questions asked.
Having worked at a large family medicine practice in Salem since 2011, this is Knudsen’s first foray into private practice. Noticing she was already experiencing the signs of burnout, Knudsen decided it was time to try something different, an old model of practicing medicine that has almost been forgotten. Today at least 500 other physicians around the country are reviving a way to practice medicine that doesn’t involve big office buildings, numerous staff, administrators, and crammed schedules.  
At Happy Doc Family Medicine, patients schedule appointments with the doctor by calling her, and she handles their insurance issues and billing questions. 
Knudsen makes herself available to patients 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Since opening her clinic in April, things have gone pretty much as she expected, including a reduction in stress.
“I have such a tremendous sense of relief to practice medicine in a way that is a lot more enjoyable (than working at a large busy clinic),” Knudsen said. “Just having more time with patients makes it worth it.”
For new patients, appointments last between one hour to 90 minutes.  For those who've seen her before, she spends 30 minutes to an hour caring for them. 
And, other than the sign that announces her presence, Knudsen hasn’t done any marketing beyond word of mouth, and expects to have a full practice within a year.  
So why aren’t more doctors opting for self-managed micro-practices?
“Most doctors don’t have much training in practice management, and there’s a lot of mystery and fear built up around dealing with insurance companies and billing," Knudsen said. “But it’s not that hard to run a small practice. It’s harder to carry out the rules, policies, and protocols that somebody else came up with.”
Thus far, Knudsen’s patients have been pleased with how she's chosen to practice medicine, and they appreciate having the time to discuss their questions in a more relaxed environment.
“The fact that she moved (from her former practice) very clearly sends the message that she is there to take quality time with patients and that she has a clear vision for how to provide service recognizing that she is the whole practice,” said Nancy Hirsch, who followed Knudsen from her former practice.
While Knudsen loves the model she’s chosen to practice medicine, she realizes it's not the only way or even necessarily the best way.
“There are a lot of different ways to practice medicine depending on a physician’s style and preferences,” she explained. “I don’t want to put one way up on a pedestal, but a micro-practice model is a viable choice financially and stress wise.  I’m excited about this type of model spreading. The patients love it. I love it.”
Image for this story by The Consumerist (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr.
Joanne Scharer can be reached at [email protected].
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