New doctor in town makes house calls

May 16, 2003|by RICHARD BELISLE

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - Anyone who's been around for the last half-century or so remembers when doctors made house calls - a practice long abandoned by the medical profession.

Dr. Susan K. Arnoult, who last week opened Bethesda Family Medicine, a new family practice office in Greencastle, makes house calls. She also gives patients her home and cell phone numbers.

In another retro-move, there's no waiting in Arnoult's waiting room. She calls her office policy "open access."

Patients can make an appointment as late as the day before to see the doctor. If she's not busy, patients also can walk in.


It's the kind of stuff you see in old 1930s black-and-white movies - the sort of lifestyle that people took for granted back then, but something that is long gone in the health care industry.

Arnoult, 35, said her office practice is an experiment.

"It's a work in progress," she said.

"It's a new concept in the business and I have certainly never done it before," she tells patients in a single sheet of paper that she hands out to new patients that explains how her practice works. "It could be renamed patient-convenient scheduling."

"It's the wave of the future," Arnoult said. "Patients are totally unhappy with the way health care is today. Doctors need a manageable number of patients."

Her office manager, Tracy Leidy, an LPN, helps with patient needs, but does not run interference for Arnoult. If patients need to speak to Arnoult they usually can, if not immediately then sometime the same day.

Arnoult worked for Tuscarora Family Practice in Greencastle, a division of Summit Health, upon completing her residency at Idaho State University in 1999. She left the practice in January to set up her own practice at 119 S. Carlisle St. She set it up in two first-floor rooms of a neat brick Victorian building that she shares with apartment tenants in the rear and on the second floor.

The front room is the reception area and Leidy's domain. The back room serves as the examination room and Arnoult's office.

Arnoult decided to try a different method of family practice, one that would give her more flexible time to spend with her three young daughters, ages 4, 6 and 8.

She learned of the method from Dr. Gordon Moore, a Rochester, N.Y., family practitioner who put it into practice, wrote books about it and has been the subject of an article in Newsweek magazine.

"I read a lot about him," she said. "He gave up a typical practice to go solo. He works all alone. He has no receptionist, no answering service. I called him and asked if I could come up and spend a day with him.

"I did and he really did do it that way. It's incredible. There are hundreds of doctors in the country who are trying to make it work."

Her examination room looks too sparse to do what it does, but it works, she said.

"I've got all the equipment here that I had at Tuscarora," Arnoult said. "You don't need that much equipment for family practice. When I asked Gordon what supplies I needed, he said a stethoscope, pen and prescription pad. He said, 'All that training. That's what you're selling. What's in your brain.'"

Arnoult said she never wants to let her practice get too big.

She and her husband, Scott Arnoult, grew up in Silver Spring, Md.

"We've known each other since kindergarten," she said.

They graduated from different high schools and both went to the University of Maryland. She majored in medical science and he in government and politics. They were married in college.

After graduation, Scott Arnoult enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, went on to officer candidate school and became a helicopter pilot. They moved to Pensacola, Fla., where he went to flight school and she worked at odd jobs, mostly as a receptionist in doctor's offices, she said.

In 1992, Scott was assigned to the West Coast and Susan entered the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.

"We were separated for two years. We only saw each other once a month," Susan said. The couple's first child, Winona, was born while Susan was in medical school.

Scott moved back east when his hitch was up and the family went to live in the basement of his parents' home in Silver Spring while Susan finished medical school. She was six months pregnant with their second daughter, Bridget, by that time.

Meanwhile Scott returned to college at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. When both finished their courses, the family headed to Idaho State University, where Susan began three years of residency.

"I picked Idaho because it was someplace we had not lived before and I liked its OB/GYN program," she said.

Scott started nursing school at the university and graduated at the same time Susan finished her residency. It was 1999 and Natalie, the couple's third daughter, had come along.

The family moved back east. Susan went to work delivering babies at Tuscarora Family Practice and Scott entered Dickinson Law School in the fall of 2000. He graduates this spring, takes his bar exam in July and will work as a law clerk for Common Pleas Court Judge John Walker in Chambersburg, Pa.

"He put me through medical school in the Marine Corps and I put him through law school delivering babies," Susan said.

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