Practicing Happy Medicine
If you had occasion to go to Happy Doc Family Medicine, in Salem, Oregon, you might be surprised to find Dr. Lara Knudsen ’03 welcoming you at the door. The humble, 300-square-foot clinic has no receptionist, no administrators, no medical assistants, no fancy diagnostic equipment. Just Dr. Lara. Opened in 2013 by Lara and her husband Chris Jones ’05, Happy Doc is their inspired answer to many of the things that are wrong with the current health care system.
“It’s a common theme that many primary care physicians are not very happy with their jobs, and end up feeling quite burnt out and drained,” says Lara. “In a more typical clinic there tends to be a lot of pressure from the administrators to see more and more patients, because that’s the only way to generate income to pay for all the salaries, and the big, fancy buildings.”
In medical school at George Washington University and her residency at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Lara experienced a typical schedule of rapid-fire, 10- or 15-minute slots. She found that physicians typically don’t have much control over how many patients they see, how many are double booked, how much time to allow for thoroughness.
“You end up running around all day like your head’s cut off,” says Lara. After feeling headless for about a year, she realized it wasn’t going to work for her long term. She and Chris began looking around, trying to find examples of physicians who were engaged and excited about their careers, and found the model known as “ideal medical practices,” or simply “micropractices.”
“If you strip away all the expensive buildings and extra staff, and just get back to the basics of one doctor and one patient, then the relationship is strengthened and you have more time to delve into that person’s medical issues and hopefully be a little more thorough. Each of my appointments is scheduled for 30 to 60 minutes. I feel more satisfied because I’m addressing all the things that are on a patient’s mind, and patients feel better because they aren’t asked to prioritize and just pick one or two issues, and then come back in a couple of weeks.”
Lara found that the reception by the community in Salem, including the medical community, has been very welcoming. Her patients are clearly excited about the micropractice model, and eager to share it with their family and friends. Lara has done no advertising, other than word-of-mouth, and she has a waiting list for new patients. But the most gratifying part about her new clinic is getting to know her patients well.
“I have so much more time with patients, as I’m checking them in, or collecting their co-pay, or checking their blood pressure—all that stuff a physician normally wouldn’t do. During that process we get to chat about ‘How are your kids,’ ‘Where are you guys going this summer,’ and ‘How’s work,’ those kind of things that help you get to know somebody. The better you get to know your patients, the more it’s like hanging out with friends—but you’re trying to help a friend with a problem. When a patient gives me a big hug and says, ‘I feel like I’ve just had a visit with a great friend’—that’s the best part of my day.”