Night pediatrics treats after-hours ills ANNE ARUNDEL HEALTH

April 27, 1993|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Staff Writer

Three years ago, business at an Annapolis pediatric service for children who get sick at night started slowly, with maybe a couple patients a night. But times have changed.

On Saturday, doctors at Nighttime Pediatrics on Generals Highway saw 96 patients. On Sunday, it was 108.

"It's more common now to have two incomes, two working parents," said Dr. Robert G. Graw Jr., a Davidsonville pediatrician who started the practice with eight other pediatricians in December 1989. "Their children are in day care, where they are more exposed to germs. And since [the parents are] working, they may not be able to get to the doctor during the day."

The service, which is available after regular pediatrician's offices close, has become so popular that doctors are thinking about opening two new centers -- one in northern Anne Arundel County and another in Montgomery County.

The concept has taken off, Dr. Graw said, because -- short of hospital emergency rooms -- parents have few options for sick children after hours.

On Saturday night, the place was hopping, although a first-time visitor would never have known it. No long lines in the lobby, no room full of crying babies and stressed-out parents. In fact, there were never more than a few people in the waiting room at a time, although the parking lot was packed with cars.

The orderly demeanor of the place, said Dr. Graw, is part of a system he and the other doctors worked out, which has helped make Nighttime Pediatrics a success.

First, there's the computer that tracks all patients, telling the nurse or doctor at a glance the child's name, a description of the problem and how long, to the minute, he or she has been in the facility.

Second, there's the innovative layout, with nine examining rooms arranged in a square around the nurses station. In a corridor around the outside, fold-up chairs attach to the wall across from each cubicle.

As patients check in at the front desk, they are immediately assigned a cubicle. They either go right in, or, if the room is occupied, sit on the flip-down chairs across from it. As soon as the room opens, the next patient goes in.

The average wait to see a doctor is less than 10 minutes. The average for patients from start to finish is 30 minutes, including waiting and treatment time. The emphasis is on taking care of the immediate problem and getting the patient home as quickly as possible, Dr. Graw said.

On Saturday night, a check of the computer system showed the scope of ailments commonly treated -- vomiting, fever, sore throat, asthma, earache, cough.

In Room 1, Anne Habeck of Crownsville watched over her 10-year-old son, asleep after receiving medication for a "migraine-type" headache. "They are so competent here, it's unbelievable," she said. "We have a regular pediatrician in Severna Park, but by the time we get home and someone says, 'I'm sick,' it's after 5 p.m. It's too late."

Down the hall, Althea Phillips of Annapolis waited with her 16-year-old son Derrick after he was treated for a severe asthma attack.

"I thought we'd be sitting here for a long time, but we came right in," said Ms. Phillips. "It's a lot better than going to the emergency room, believe me. It's faster and it's more specialized care."

Office hours are 5 p.m. to midnight Monday through Friday, noon to midnight Saturday and Sunday. Nighttime Pediatrics is open 365 days a year and will treat patients from infancy through age 22.

The practice has made arrangements with 10 insurance companies and health maintenance organizations to cover its fees, including Blue Cross/Blue Shield, CareFirst/Freestate, MD-IPA/Optimum Choice, Prudential Health Care Plan, Columbia Medical Plan, U.S. Healthcare Systems and Aetna Health plus.

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