It’s 5:03—early on a Saturday morning and I’d rather be asleep, or out dancing, but instead I’m swallowing a sharp piece of gravel. That’s what it feels like, at least. I open my laptop and shoot off a detailed message, now that anxious googling has turned me into a medical professional. The subtext is that I am going to die soon if someone doesn’t intervene. The reality is that I just need some throat spray, but I’m not ready to accept this.
“1. Do you think I should train tomorrow? If it’s just allergies I’m assuming it’d be fine, but I wouldn’t want to risk it if I could have, like, mono or something more serious,” I write, hoping he understands that my spleen will rupture if I try to squat 115 pounds seven hours from now, when I’m supposed to meet with my powerlifting coach. (I speak in numbered lists when I am at peak type-A analysis.)
“2. Is there anything I can do over the weekend to try and heal? I have gentian violet that I could try to paint on my tonsils?”
He responds at 5:27 a.m. “I think it’s likely fine to train tomorrow,” he writes. “I would not use gentian violet.”
I don’t want to trust him, but I have to, because he is my doctor, and more specifically, The Doc Who Lifts. Plus, I already skipped one training session this week, and as a novice lifter, I’m especially nervous about forming bad habits.
I’m able to chat with my doctor early on a Saturday morning because I’ve recently enrolled with SteadyMD, an online concierge doctor service designed to provide what its name says it will—a steady doctor. The platform pairs you with a primary care physician with expertise in your area of interest, allowing you, for a monthly fee, to receive tailored care whenever you need it.
Membership gives you consistent access to the same doctor through phone, text, and video chat. Together you’ll dive into your medical history and concerns, collaborating on a plan to optimize your health and, depending on your goals, athletic performance.
Your doctor will, according to the SteadyMD website, “really get to know you, like a doctor friend.”
Dr. Spencer is right, of course. I grind out five sets of five squats at 115 pounds, which is a personal record. Two days later, after a lot of painful swallows and gargling warm, salty water, the symptoms clear. My recovery is nothing short of miraculous (to me).
When a Video Chat Doctor’s Appointment Is the Best Doctor’s Appointment
I am carless, in a new city, with precious little free time during the week, and I spent all of yesterday in the L.A. airport because of a delayed flight that landed me in bed at 3 a.m. So a morning doctor’s appointment that requires only a private room, an internet connection, and my laptop is pretty much the only doctor’s appointment I can handle.
After breaking the ice with a few comments about the weather in our respective locations (he’s in D.C.; I’m in St. Louis), we get down to business. He asks me about allergies, family medical history, past surgeries, height, weight, and lifestyle.
Then, we move on to my current concerns. I’ve just relocated from New York City, where I spent much of my time working from my hoarder’s paradise apartment—literally, the women who rented the apartment out to me stored piles of their old items there—so I’m unsure of whether I have chronic sinusitis, allergies, or my body’s just been slowly poisoned over the past four years.
I read somewhere that fatigue can be an indicator of sinus infection. And while my energy levels seem higher in my new home, I still feel generally phlegmy, with an on-again, off-again whistling cough (possibly due to my “borderline” asthma), sinus pressure headaches, and occasional brain fog. Since I’ve only ever lived in my body, and I feel healthy and functional overall, it’s hard to know whether there’s room for improvement—but why not try?
Dr. Spencer decides to order me a series of lab tests, including a body composition scan that will provide insight on my progress building muscle. After our visit, the “front-desk” chat through the SteadyMD mobile app lets me see what Dr. Spencer tells the doctor’s assistant (“Hi Sarah I put in labs for Anna but she would like to find a lab nearby and also know if her insurance will cover the labs I put in”) and we’re done.
The whole thing takes about half an hour, which, according to recent Harvard research, is a quarter of the average total time spent on a doctor visit. It’s a welcome change from when my appointments—getting there, waiting, waiting some more, getting back—required sacrificing half of my workday, even though I wasn’t sick. (I’m at work, so the efficient visit makes sense, but initial SteadyMD assessments typically last a full 60 minutes.)
A True (Doctor) Friend
The one area of your doctor visit that you’d want to go more slowly—the part where you get one-on-one time with the person who’s supposed to be an expert on your health—is often when you’re hustled out of the office like you’re in some kind of drill, maybe after an impersonal interaction during which you wondered if they even remembered who you were. When you consider that the average number of patients in a doctor’s care is about 2,300, this makes sense. (That figure is according to a survey of a national random sample of 463 nonretainer physicians, with a 50 percent response rate, published in 2005.) It would also explain why the duration of a typical doctor visit is between 13 and 24 minutes, with some lasting shorter than nine.
After a spell of (perhaps literally) toxic working environments and relationships, I have dubbed this new life an era of radical self-care. It means being selective about how and with whom I spend my time. It should be a given that your doctor is at least one person you can rely on to take care of you, but with a ratio like 1:2,300, that certainly isn’t a guarantee.
An especially appealing aspect of having a concierge doctor is being one of a much smaller pool of patients. At $99 per month—roughly the cost of a weekday Starbucks habit or a single trip to urgent care—the SteadyMD service is a reasonable investment. You’re paying for the focused attention of someone who is contractually bound (and professionally equipped) to help you take better care of yourself.
My Prescription Will Go On
Surprisingly, uprooting your entire life can be time consuming. You have to look for apartments and move boxes and buy so many things at Ikea. You have to include yourself in every social event to make sure you’re really inhabiting your new city. And you have to wait for a fresh insurance card to come in the mail.
Inconveniently, your hormonal acne will not pause for any of this. So when a long holiday weekend rolls around and you’re suddenly out of the prescription that’s been keeping things under control, you will yell out, in slo-mo, “NoooooooooooooooOoooooooo.”
In the past, I relied on my dermatologist to call spironolactone in to the pharmacy. Once a certain number of refills had been called in, I couldn’t get a new one without scheduling another (time-consuming) appointment.
By now I’ve used up all my refill lives. And though I’ve been here a month and a half, I still haven’t found a new dermatologist. NoooooooooooooooOoooooooo.
Then I remember Dr. Spencer. SteadyMD membership includes unlimited messaging, which is how, on Memorial Day weekend, I’m able to open the chat and say that I’m visiting family in Arkansas, and can you please send a prescription for this acne pill to my local pharmacy before my face starts erupting in painful cysts?
Do you know what happens? He sends a prescription.
He. Sends. A. Prescription.
I’ve wasted time I will never get back arguing with insurance companies, having to fight for time from medical professionals. Can you understand how it feels to merely ask for what you need—and then be given what you need? It’s profound. It makes you want to cry into your hands.
My doctor friend, The Doc Who Lifts.
His mission—and the mission of the other doctors who lift, because, let me tell you, there are many doctors who lift on SteadyMD—is to revolutionize healthcare by providing patients with holistic, preventive advice from experts who will come to understand your individual needs over the long term. The change is simple but radical, and sometimes that’s exactly what you need.