Asheville under glass: Get your docs (not ducks) lined up

Where is that Obamacare medical warehouse we all were promised? You know, the one that will store our medical data such as the list of meds we take, when we had our last tetanus shot, operation dates, etc. I, for one, will embrace a Big Brother information-gathering site if it makes things easier.

Here’s how one recent medical problem went for me:

Me (with decided urgency): “Hi, I’m Colleen Mellor, and I’m a half-year resident of Asheville who also lives in Rhode Island. I have this particularly pesky problem with a cyst that’s worrisome. I’m an established patient who came in a while ago.” (I’m purposely vague.) “I believe I’m in your computer system.”

I hear paper shuffling and computer clicking, during which time the receptionist locates my information and asks me questions. I confirm my birthdate and address, and I’m heartened, for she’s found proof that I’m an established patient.

Receptionist: “Hmm. I’m sorry, but since you’ve not been here in quite some time, you’ve been discontinued as an active patient. You’ll now need to make an appointment as a new patient.

Because I didn’t recognize the import of this, I say, “Oh, that’s OK. So when can I get an appointment as a new patient?”

Receptionist (apologetically): “The doctor isn’t taking new patients until June, so that would be the earliest.” (I called in March.)

Me (incredulously): “June? Are you serious?” (That’s rhetorical.) “If this is an infection, I’ll be dead by then.”

(I then rethink my situation and offer): “Oooh, wait a minute. I think there’s supposed to be a big snowstorm coming in mid-week, and I’m sure some North Carolinian will cancel his or her appointment when roads get slick. Can you put me on a waiting list to get me in when someone cancels?”

I then add (in a wild effort to bond with this woman) that “we Northeasterners drive though anything.” She laughs but then gets serious.

Receptionist: “Well … I can’t put you in just anyone’s canceled slot. You can only take a new patient’s canceled appointment.”

Me (flustered): “But I’m not really a new patient because I’ve been to the doctor before, and it’s not my fault the computer reclassifed me. I just haven’t had a dermatological problem in the past four years, so I had no reason to come.” (At this point, I’m sure the infection is that flesh-eating bacteria we’ve all read about.)

“What do you suggest I do?” I ask, overcome with panic.

“Well, are you willing to see the PA (physician assistant)?”

I get excited and say, “Yes,” but then she tells me the PA’s next available appointment is in May.  

“But,” she adds, “if you take that May appointment, it’ll get you in the door. In the meantime, I suggest you go to your general practitioner so he can check out your problem. He can put you on antibiotics, too, if needed.”

Now, for the record, my general practitioner in Asheville had to be cajoled into seeing me last year when I got a cold and needed medication because it’d been a couple of years since I saw him, and his computer also dropped me from active patient status.

You see, I have my yearly check-up with my general practitioner in Rhode Island, and Medicare doesn’t pay for more than one annual physical, so I hadn’t seen my Asheville primary care provider, Dr. James Hoer, for quite some time either.

Luckily, I went to Dr. Hoer’s walk-in clinic for established patients where physician assistant Kathy Haggart treated me. I’m thrilled, as it seems I don’t have that flesh-eating bacteria after all.

She got me an appointment with a surgeon for the following Monday (she has clout). And she got me in to see that same dermatologist I wanted in two weeks (more clout).

My advice?  Get your docs lined up before you need them, and if you’re a two-state resident, send all test results, procedures, medication lists to all, so you never get de-activated.

You might also want to have periodic wellness check appointments. Not for you, but for your doctors. For instance, I see my oncologist, Dr. Michael Messino, of Asheville, yearly, to assure myself that he’s fine.

I don’t plan on being “deactivated” ever again. It’s just too damned hard to get resuscitated.

Colleen Kelly Mellor ( came to Asheville eight years ago for a quieter lifestyle, but that didn’t happen. On a mountain road, four  years ago, her husband was hit head-on by a 12-year-old girl in a truck. He “died” following surgery (staff shocked him back to life), and they’ve been crawling back ever since. In this column, Mellor opines on life in Western North Carolina as only the “born again” can do. Published in the Wall Street Journal, among others, Mellor adds her senior view of a region often touted as one of America’s “Best Retirement Towns.”




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4 thoughts on “Asheville under glass: Get your docs (not ducks) lined up

  1. ColleenKMellor

    Actually, Jake, my point was: Anyone…anywhere should keep his or her doctors, in the loop, so when you have REALLY big need, you don’t hear “Sorry…doc’s not taking any more new patients.” This is serious message for young people, too, or anyone who lives exclusively in one state, too…We don’t really consider ourselves dealing with ‘trials and tribulations’ because we live in both RI and Asheville…We chose both states and neither one gives us the income tax pass, as is motive for some to live elsewhere and we return to Asheville, in January, when many others have sought refuge elsewhere..Thank you for commenting..

  2. Eileen

    My Mom has had the same problem. She has been retired for some time and has a small trailer in another area hours away. Staying on a physician’s current list of patients is something she didn’t even consider, until it happened to her. Your article was a charming way to remind us all to keep ourselves prepped and ready for health and sickness, by keeping our medical relationships well tended.

  3. ColleenKMellor

    “….keep ourselves prepped and ready for health and sickness, by keeping our medical relationships well tended.” I like that…sort of like a “garden” analogy. Well-done, Eileen. Thank you!

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