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Tired of dealing with insurers, doctor to retire

November 08, 1999|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

Times have changed since Dr. Edward Ditto III began accepting patients at his Hagerstown office in the 1950s. Back then a routine visit was just $1.50, babies were delivered for $50 and a physician often treated a person from birth to adulthood.

Now, 47 years later, the Hagerstown doctor said he has become increasingly disillusioned by the profession and has decided to retire on Dec. 31.

While he has worked from his West Washington Street office for years, his charge for an office visit has gone up to $48 and patients are now billed $5,000 for deliveries of infants.

The doctor said he is weary of dealing with insurance companies who can dictate a patient's hospital admittance or length of stay and the difference it has made in the physician/patient relationship.

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"I was fortunate to practice in the 'Golden Age of medicine.' Now it has ceased to be a profession. Now it is an industry controlled by the government," Ditto said.

At 75, Ditto has treated thousands of patients - 70 percent of them for more than 30 years, he said.

He decided on a general practice for its diversity, he said. "It's more of challenge. If you are just a pediatrician, you have screaming kids wetting on your tie every day. I didn't just want to treat the elderly, either."

Looking back on his career, Ditto said if he had to do it all again he would chose marine biology over medicine.

He represents the second of three generations of physicians. His father, the late Edward Wilson Ditto Jr., was a physician, and his son, Dr. Allen Wilson Ditto, practices in Hagerstown.

Ditto graduated from Hagerstown High School in 1942 and went on to Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. He served in the South Pacific with the Navy from 1943-45 and returned to Franklin and Marshall to graduate in 1947.

He also studied at the University of Maryland and earned a medical degree from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia in 1952.

Ditto briefly practiced at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh before returning to Hagerstown for good in 1954.

He is a volunteer with the Community Free Clinic in Hagerstown and is deputy medical examiner for Washington County.

"He's a great physician for the city and does a wonderful job as medical examiner," said Mayor Bob Bruchey.

The mayor said he particularly respects Ditto's compassion and patience. He said the doctor took the time to calmly and clearly explain his late father Robert Eugene Bruchey's medical condition last spring in a way others didn't.

Ditto said he will continue as medical examiner and volunteer at the free clinic during his retirement.

"They really need help down there," he said of the clinic on West Franklin Street.

Years ago, Ditto said it was common for him and other doctors to treat the indigent free of charge.

"It was about 15 percent of my practice. I never questioned it if they couldn't pay. I just treated them anyway," he said.

Ditto's compassion for the poor extends beyond the boundaries of Washington County and even to his vacation time. An avid traveler, the doctor has been to Mexico several times and volunteered in area hospitals there, he said, adding he will return in January.

"I love its history and people. They are genuinely friendly," Ditto said.

Many of the hospitals in Mexico's cities are as advanced as in United States, but in rural areas they can be rudimentary, although he said he has learned that luck and instinct can be just as important as years of training and cutting-edge facilities in practicing medicine.

Ditto recalled treating a female patient in her 50s for a heart attack about 40 years ago. Technologies taken for granted to treat such patients today "were then only figments of the imagination," he said.

Nurses told him told the woman, who was placed in an oxygen tent, had died.

Ditto said he walked into the room, looked at the patient and gave her a thump on her chest with the side of his fist.

"She started to breath and opened her eyes. She lived for another 20 years," he said.

He isn't sure what prompted him to pound her chest, but he believes he may have stimulated an electrical impulse that got her heart beating again.

"It was a stroke of luck," he said modestly.

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