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The Savvy Traveler : Hotel Physicians Answering the Call

October 25, 1987|PETER S. GREENBERG | Greenberg is a Los Angeles free-lance writer

On the second day of their honeymoon vacation in Asia, an American woman complained to her husband of intense stomach pains. A hotel doctor was summoned. His diagnosis: food poisoning.

Some pills were prescribed, and she continued her journey from Bangkok to India. In Delhi the pains got worse. Another hotel doctor was called. His diagnosis: muscle cramps. More pills were prescribed.

Two days later the woman was rushed to the emergency room of a hospital. The correct diagnosis: acute appendicitis. Doctors operated and saved her life.

For years, horror stories were commonplace about doctors at hotels around the world. If they weren't accused of incompetence they were blamed for slow response and high fees.

Now that reputation is changing . . . for the better.

Not only are hotels paying more attention to the doctors with whom they contract to provide medical services, but are focusing also on emergency medical treatment that can be administered by hotel staffers until doctors or paramedics arrive.

Trained Staff

In Washington, new hotels such as the Park Hyatt have not only contracted with a special group of doctors on call 24 hours, but the hotel has also trained much of its staff in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and the proper use of oxygen in emergency situations.

In Honolulu, many resort hotels have banded together with a group of physicians to upgrade their medical services for guests. "Doctors on Call" (also known as DOC) now operates out of five offices, all in hotels. The doctors all wear beepers; some drive mopeds. As a result, response time to guests has dramatically improved for normal medical problems as well as emergencies.

Some hotels offer even more comprehensive medical services.

Overseas, many hotels feature house doctors who hold regular office hours at the hotel. This is particularly true in many Asian countries, where regulations require hotels to provide medical staff to treat hotel employees. They are then available to treat guests.

In Hong Kong, Bangkok and Manila it is not unusual to find such doctors in residence at upscale hotels such as the Regent, Hilton and Mandarin.

And in Manila the Mandarin Hotel not only features a doctor but a fully operational dental clinic. The clinic comes in handy for guests with lost fillings and midnight toothaches, and business travelers often use the clinic to get their teeth cleaned.

One-Time Patients

In Perth, Australia, the Merlin Hotel features a doctor in the house. Dr. John Rosenthal holds regular office hours and is on call 24 hours a day.

"Many of the patients I see are foreigners here for only a short time," he says. "They usually want me to alleviate their symptoms rather than complete a thorough examination to look for the cause of their problem.

"The fact that I will probably never again see this patient never weighs in my decision for treatment."

Recently a guest described stomach pains and said he needed a prescription to cure "traveler's diarrhea." When Rosenthal discovered that the guest hadn't seen his own doctor recently, he insisted on examining the guest first. What he found was a cancerous tumor about the size of a walnut.

The Holiday Inn on Paradise Island in the Bahamas doesn't have a house doctor. But the hotel offers a weekly seminar on "bush" medicines of the islands, promoting the virtues of allspice, papaya, sage, dill seed, thyme and madeira bark.

The Mandarin in Hong Kong employs a group of British doctors, Chinese doctors and nurses that maintain offices in the hotel. Each day one of the doctors maintains office hours and a full-time nurse is always on duty.

Quality Care Essential

The medical group doesn't just treat hotel guests. "We have to be careful how good the doctors are," says Mandarin manager Jurg Tuscher, "because we also provide full medical care for all of our staff.

"It's essential to have great doctors here. People come here from China and India, and a stomach can take only so much. There's not a day in Hong Kong without a guest seeing a doctor."

In the United States few hotels have house doctors and those that do might surprise you.

In Las Vegas, Caesars Palace has had a house doctor for years. Ditto for Bally's Park Palace in Atlantic City. You can also find a medical clinic in the basement of Harrah's in Lake Tahoe.

In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Dr. Bob Dollinger holds regular office hours at the Bonaventure Resort and Spa. The resort offers nude sunbathing areas for its guests, and Dollinger gets his fair share of what he calls "embarrassing" cases of sunburn.

And in Boston, the Copley Plaza Hotel has a house podiatrist. "We're seeing more and more hotel doctors coming to the rescue of guests," says Dr. James Barahal, one of the founders of Doctors on Call. "And so many of the guests seem so surprised at the sophisticated level of care we provide."

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