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by Abigail Van Buren

Doctors Managing Patients Are Given No Time to Care

DEAR ABBY: I'm writing to support "Doctor in Michigan," who wrote that doctors have no time to talk to large numbers of depressed or suicidal people on the phone. Unfortunately, this doctor told you the truth. The best way to handle these people (and there are many) is to tell them to call the suicide hotline and make a follow-up appointment with their doctor.

Managed care, which is what the majority of doctors work under, means a lot of managing and very little care. In fact, we doctors aren't even doctors anymore; we are "providers." I have worked as a "provider" for 10 years in four different jobs and locations. All of them were crummy. At my current job, I see a patient every 15 minutes with a "double-book" occasionally thrown in.

Most providers routinely eat a 10-minute lunch and avoid consuming much liquid so they won't have to take too many two-minute potty breaks. I don't even dare ask patients how they are anymore, for fear they will really tell me. Under managed care, I'm given no time to listen to their answer, anyway.

I doubt you heard from many doctors on this issue because most are too busy trying to keep their miserable lives afloat. I pity those carrying big mortgages and supporting kids in college, because they probably can't afford to leave these "factory jobs" behind. I, myself, plan to eventually change careers.

Abby, the medical profession is falling apart in this country. It's a tragedy. Unfortunately, I cannot sign my name. Just sign me ... A DOCTOR, TELLING IT LIKE IT IS

DEAR DOCTOR: I am aware that with the arrival of managed care, doctors are compelled to see more patients in less time. However, even if a physician is unable to schedule an emergency appointment, a return call at the end of the day would be the courteous and caring course of action. Read on for another view:

DEAR ABBY: I was fortunate enough not to be the patient of the "family physician" in Michigan when my life came crashing in around me.

I called my physician's office and asked the staff to have him prescribe something for my agitation, as I was so upset I felt like blowing my brains out. His assistants were tremendous. They told me to come in right then! My doctor saw me immediately, listened with compassion, assured me that we'd get through this, and thanked me for calling him. He phoned a therapist in a nearby building and set up immediate therapy for me. He asked if I could walk over there alone, or if I wanted his nurse to take me. Then they watched to make sure I made it safely to the other building, where the therapist was waiting for me outside the front door!

Dr. Wayne Owens, his staff, and Pat Booker, M.S.W., literally saved my life. I am now emotionally healthy and stable, and enjoying life as I never had before.

There's a light at the end of the suicidal tunnel if people like these help you when you're at your lowest. -- ELLEN LE BLANC, NEW ORLEANS

DEAR ELLEN: You will be pleased to know that your experience was not unique. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: I am alive today because my family physician took the time to call me on the phone. Yes, he also asked me to come in immediately for a consultation, and referred me to a mental health specialist. However, it was the phone call that saved me from suicide. I didn't know where else to turn. Not everyone is aware of suicide hotlines.

Abby, a family physician (also known as a general practitioner) is usually the first step toward successful treatment of mental illness. -- CHRISTINA IN WAYNESBORO, PA.

Abby shares more of her favorite, easy-to-prepare recipes. To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, More Favorite Recipes, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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