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Meet-and-greet moments help bring doctors, potential patients together

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Debra Chandler of Aurora found herself in an urgent care center enough times that healthcare workers there suggested she find a regular primary care physician.

“I had been putting off getting a primary care physician for some time. I just didn’t take the time to find one before,” the 54-year-old said.

It’s not that healthcare providers never helped her find a new doctor; she had been provided with lists of physicians, sometimes with the photos attached, many times. But still, Chandler never knew where to start with so many doctors from which to choose.

This month, Edward Hospital in Naperville started a program to help people like Chandler find a primary doctor in a new way. Chandler attended an Edward Hospital event that matches prospective patients with their doctors-to-be.

Think of it as speed dating. But instead of sharing your wants in a companion or your idea of a perfect evening, you’re discovering a physician’s philosophy on treatment and maybe even confessing your bad eating or lifestyle habits.

Called “MD Match: Come Meet Your Dr. Right,” patients spent five minutes each with a handful of physicians from Edward Medical Group, the primary care practice of Edward Hospital. The hospital held sessions recently in Naperville and another this past week in Plainfield.

Sitting at tables, doctors waited for patients to visit with them — instead of the other way around. Most doctors scrapped the white coat for a casual suit. A few donned stethoscopes.

Within minutes, Chandler found a doctor of her liking, and a practice that suited her needs: it was close to home.

She also knew she wanted an Edward physician because she had completed annual exams with the hospital in the past. The doctor she chose was actually the first physician she met.

“To sit and chit-chat and get a feel for the doctor was helpful. It helped because that way you got to see what doctors specialized in,” she said.

“It just seems more personable. Sitting with them for those few minutes gives you an idea of whether this is someone whom you’d be comfortable with.”

Physicians said it was a nice change of pace to talk casually on a first meeting rather than jump into an examination or diagnosis, as is typical with first encounters with new patients.

Dr. Constantine Wonais, who practices in Lisle, said he liked the opportunity to field questions from patients on just about anything. He was able to express his views on vitamin usage with one patient, for example.

“I think there’s a lot of quackery out there with vitamins. If they just ate right and exercised, they’d be OK. Maybe a multivitamin or a Vitamin D. There’s just an excessive amount of vitamins being taken,” Wonais said, as another prospective patient walked past, listened in and leaned over to read the name on his placard.

Another couple, Melissa and Jim Nolan of Naperville, said they have delayed finding a permanent physician after moving from apartments to a home. Plus, they’re both in their 20s and healthy; medical care has been the last thing on their minds.

“We’ve put it off for far too long that we couldn’t avoid it anymore,” Jim Nolan admitted.

So the couple spent the evening getting to know doctors informally. On both sides of the table, stories of family and personal life were shared. A doctor had casually shared with the Nolans her relocation from the northwest suburbs to the Fox Valley years ago because she liked the school system out here.

Like Chandler, Melissa Nolan expressed to the physician that she has been to immediate care enough times in the past that she was encouraged to find a family care doctor.

Melissa also told the doctor she was a bit scared of needles and treatments in general, adding she was hesitant to get a flu shot.

Then she leaned in and asked: “So when you see a patient for the first time, what do you do exactly?” her full attention on the physician.

Tanya Rieves, a health promotions coordinator with Edward Hospital, said Edward looked into the idea after hearing that similar events held at other hospitals were successful. And although this Dr. Right program has ended, Rieves said the hospital could see this type of matchmaking work well for other specialties, not just family or primary care physicians.

“Gong into that first appointment and not knowing if you’re going to click with that doctor can be intimidating. In the casual setting, we gave them that initial opportunity to have that face-to-face with the doctor. Within a few minutes, you know if you’re interested in making an appointment or not,” Rieves said.

At another table, a quite famous doctor was sharing his experience as a longtime physician who used to operate a 1,500-patient practice. Dr. John Saran’s name made headlines last year after the Edward Medical Group doctor delivered a baby boy on board a Southwest Airlines flight from Chicago to Salt Lake City.

Saran recently downsized his practice. He now spends about a half-hour with each patient as opposed to 15-minute sessions with 30 to 40 patients daily.

“I wanted one-on-one time with my patients,” he told two prospective patients. Looking around the room, he added, “All of these doctors are great, A-plus, but the difference is the system.”

Each event has drawn in more than 50 people on average, and many patients were able to book appointments with their new-found doctors on the spot.

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