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A compassionate physician: Meet Dr. Arnold Fong

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More than at any other time in our lives, we elders want to feel that life is still good, that we have value and contributions to make. And, perhaps more than at any other time, we want to feel supported and well taken care of by our physicians. So, it’s important that we choose well, by expertise and, too, by personality. When I was in my thirties, I complained to my doctor that a specialist he’d referred me to was certainly intelligent but abrupt and condescending. I said that I guess it should be more important to me that he’s more than qualified than to complain about his personality. My doctor said: “You should have both.” I haven’t forgotten that and have chosen my doctors accordingly.

Dr. Fong agrees. “There has to be good communication and understanding between the patient and physician in order for things to work well.”

In his training at the University of Florida and Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, Dr. Fong enjoyed being able to care for patients of all ages. For him it was a more well rounded experience. Therefore, his decision to open a practice in Family Medicine. However, several incidents occurred that added a great number of elder patients to his practice. “When I was doing rounds at Baptist Beaches Hospital, one of my patients, a nurse, had a broken shoulder. She worked at Vicar’s Landing and liked my care and became a source of referral for me, and many residents there started coming to see me. One of my patients from Vicar’s was a vibrant, youthful and healthy woman in her 80s who died tragically in an automobile accident on A1A. That event was the impetus for me seeing patients at Vicar’s Landing rather than having them come to my office, and also moving my practice from Jacksonville Beach to Ponte Vedra.”

Doctor Fong was born in Miami of Chinese parents both of whom immigrated to the United States from Mainland China. After his Residency in Tallahassee he did locum tenens work, temporarily filling in for various doctors who needed to be away from their practices in Tampa, Topeka and Australia. When he returned from Australia he brought back his tired suitcase and a lively interest in a nurse named Vicki who he met while in Queensland. Over the next two years they endured countless hours in the air as their courtship continued, ending with marriage and Vicki moving to Ponte Vedra. Not long after, Vicki became the Practice Manager. Together they have surrounded themselves and their patients with a kind and friendly staff. Valuing the importance of his office personnel to his patients, Dr. Fong says: “They are the face of my practice. They have to have a pleasant and cheerful attitude when they speak for me.”

About his philosophy of patient care: “I try to approach a patient and treat them as if they were a member of my family. That’s my role as a family physician - to be a friend as well as a physician.” He related the story of having been at TPC and seeing one of his patients who didn’t look or feel well. “He was alone and I finally convinced him to let me take him to the hospital.” Another time, a patient came into his office alone saying she was dizzy and wanted Dr. Fong to give her something for dizziness. “Well, she was in atrial fibrillation and I took her directly to the hospital.”

I asked Dr. Fong what he would want someone looking for a primary care physician to know about him. “That they are going to get quality care. I know my limitations about what I can take care of. If they need a specialist, I try to choose someone as understanding as I am.”

“Do you feel that putting a stethoscope to the chest might sometimes be less important than holding a hand?” I asked. “You have to be a good listener but to marry that with good clinical skills so you don’t miss a medical condition that should be treated. With medicine the way it is today, doctors have to see more patients. Some offices have Non-Physician Providers. I see everyone myself and I still try to give everyone the time they need.”

“What’s the best recipe for aging well?” I asked. “The basics: eating healthful food, exercising, maintaining good blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Not smoking. Also, having healthy relationships. I like to find out what my patients want for themselves and give them the information they need to make good choices. When it’s our time to go, there’s nothing we can do as medical professionals to change that time. But we can make sure we help our patients have a good quality of life rather than quantity.”

I asked how prevalent is loneliness, depression or anxiety in his elder patients. “It’s significant, especially if there is a loss of a loved one where their main support came from. Depression comes with isolation and lack of a good support network. But depression is fairly consistent in all age categories. Sometimes counseling is needed and medication as well.”

“Are you holistically inclined?” “Well, my training is in allopathic medicine so if I can treat with medication, I will. But I’m open to holistic approaches if a patient wants to try alternative medications.”

Following that question I asked if Dr. Fong had any particular advice for elders. “I worry about their wishes for end-of-life care. I think it’s of great importance that their affairs and stated wishes are in order. And that they have a Trustee who will respect their wishes, not necessarily a member of the family - perhaps a financial advisor - someone they trust who will abide by their wishes. I also would love them to write their memoirs.”

“What are the most rewarding aspects of your practice?” “I think when I find medical conditions and the patient gets treatment quickly, or even if it’s too late, making sure they get their affairs in order so they can plan ahead for their legacy. I like the ‘cradle to grave’ aspects of my practice, taking care of the young and watching them through their lives and helping older patients have comfortable later years and not suffer with pain. I always encourage a healthy pro-active lifestyle.”

Next time: The Doctor after hours.

I leave you with this: “The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease.” —Sir William Osler

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