Doctor: Looking for nontraditional ways to treat uninsured

February 20, 2011 

A 30-year career in health care has given Dr. Eric Ramos of Modesto special insights into patient care.

He developed his calm bedside manner and compassion for patients working as a nurse for several years before going to medical school in Southern California, where he grew up.

The former high school wrestler did a primary care residency at the former Stanislaus Medical Center in Modesto, and after finishing the training in 1992, stayed to practice here.

Ramos saw the county hospital close in 1997 and has watched the further erosion of public health care during the recent economic slump. He is a former medical director of the nonprofit Del Puerto Health Center in Patterson, where he created a fitness project to fight obesity in schools.

The athletic-looking doctor, whose hobbies have included rock climbing and snowboarding, is a model of fitness himself.

Today, Ramos, 55, is troubled by what he sees in a county where close to 200,000 residents — about 40 percent of the population — are Medi-Cal recipients or uninsured.

“You have a large population of people who don’t have access, that don’t have the means to take care of themselves, stuck in a (public health) system that can’t provide the care for so many patients,” he said.

Even the shrinking ranks of the privately insured are taking chances with their health, he added. Because of rising premiums, co-payments and deductibles, Ramos said, many are postponing preventive care or treatment for chronic illness.

In time, he said, their health conditions will worsen and many could end up in hospital emergency rooms, where medical care is the most expensive.

Ramos has a primary care practice and is chief medical officer for Doctors Medical Center in Modesto. He is known for being kind and responsive to patients in his practice, often making calls to get free medications or discounted X-rays for those in need.

Last year, Teresa Beck of Gustine, a city with two doctors, traveled 35 miles to Ramos’ office to have him check a skin lesion on her back. It was too large for Ramos to cut out, so he talked with a friend and plastic surgeon, who removed the melanoma for a discounted rate.

The same surgeon recently removed other suspicious spots on Beck’s skin, with the total bill coming to less than $2,000. Beck is denied insurance due to her health problems.

“Dr. Ramos is good at taking me in when I need to be seen and then I pay him when I can,” said Beck, 59, who runs a small day care center. “If you don’t have $300 to $400 in your checkbook, a lot of doctors won’t see you.”

Ramos is ready to break with the standard model of practice, the daily routine of scheduling up to 40 patients to see a doctor, when some of their issues could be handled with a phone call or e-mail.

He is developing group visits with patients and believes community health workers could be used to help manage chronic disease among the uninsured. The county has one of the highest heart-disease death rates in California counties and is above the state average for cancer and diabetes mortality.

“We are stuck with a traditional way of medical practice and know what our outcomes are — they are dismal,” he said.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at 578-2321.

Capital Public Radio will discuss The Bee’s series on “Insight,” its interview program, Wednesday from 10 to 11 a.m. Listen at KUOP 91.3 FM or www.capradio.org/news/insight.

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