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The Life of a Hotel Doctor

There is nothing more lousy, more unfair than getting sick on vacation. Plus, you're alone in a strange city with no clue where to begin to find a doctor. Well, take comfort, because the doctor may find you! The Savvy Traveler's Tanya Ott tells us how.

The Life of a Hotel Doctor
by Tanya Ott

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It's 8 a.m. on a Monday morning and Doctor William Oakley checks in with his dispatcher from the front seat of his van.

Oakley is Orlando's hotel doctor...one of the only docs in these parts that still makes house calls. In fact, that's all he does. From sun-up to sun-down, Oakley cruises the strip of highway connecting Disney World with Universal Studios and Sea World, his mini-van packed with medical supplies and walkie-talkie always switched to on.

Oakley's company, Centre Care of Florida Hospital, has an exclusive health care contract with Disney and is just one of dozens of medical services nationwide that contract with hotels to provide in-room medical service. A guest gets sick, calls the front desk for advice and is then referred to Oakley. He sees on average two patients an hour and logs more than 70 miles a day.


Oakley: "There's about 200,000 people in Disney property every day. That's the guests or tourist industry. And then there's 57,000 Disney employees, so you have a quarter of a million people within a 14 square mile radius. So seven days a week, 30 days a month, there's always something going on around here."

And that's just the Disney folks. Oakley also makes house calls at the dozens of non-Disney hotels that line this tourist strip. There are hundreds of hotel doctors nationwide. Some do it full-time like Oakley; others moonlight to make a little extra money. Most tourists, like Claudia Lais, are pleasantly surprised to find out hotel docs exist.

Lais: "I think it's outstanding!"

Lais' three-year-old daughter Cory is one of Dr. Oakley's first patients on this Monday morning. She's been up most of the night with a hacking cough.


Oakley: "First of all, I'm going to listen to you, okay? Now this might be a little cold, so I'll try to warm it up here. Now I'll listen to your hear here. Can you take some big breaths for me? You can do that, just like you're swimming. Breath in for the doctor. Her lungs sound good. I don't hear anything settled in the chest."

Dr. Oakley diagnoses Cory with a minor upper respiratory infection and prescribes an antibiotic, which he carries in his bag. Total bill: $184. $39 for the medicine and $145 for the visit. Hotel docs don't come cheap. Day visits range from $145 on up and night visits start at $200. And they don't take insurance so you have to pay up-front with cash, credit or check, then file reimbursement papers with your insurance company. But the patients don't seem to mind. They just want to get back to their vacations or business meetings. Of course, that's not always possible.

Oakley on the CB: "This is in-room to all units. I've got a guest pick-up at the Boardwalk for transport to Celebration ER. Can I get an ETA? Carl, wanna get that one on your way over to celebration? 10-4, I can be to the boardwalk in 15 minutes. Are they gonna be outside in front of registration? 10-4, it'll be a party of two, I'll have 'em outside."

One of Oakley's patients this day is a woman whom nurses had said might have the flu. But Oakley soon realized it might be more. The woman woke up with heart palpitations, shortness of breath and stomach pains. Probably a simple case of gastroenteritis, but because hotel docs can't perform certain procedures, like drawing blood or an EKG, Oakley couldn't rule out a heart attack. So he had to send this patient onto the emergency room. Still, he's in and out of her room in 25 minutes...then it's back to the van for the next stop. It's only 10 a.m. and there are still a dozen or so patients to see.

From Orlando, I'm Tanya Ott for the Savvy Traveler.


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