Many of my customers ask me who my doctors are. The Gastroenterologist who diagnosed me with Celiac Disease is still practicing in Rockville, Md and is retiring soon. I still see him for follow ups for Celiac and Barrett’s Esophagus.
However, my primary care physician and endocrinologist; whom I saw on a regular basis were not up to par when it came to Celiac Disease or it’s complications. One of my goals in 2016 was to find a primary care physician who truly understands Celiac Disease and who did not dismiss it as minimal or view it as not relevant to my overall health. To make it worse, I would wait for an hour or two to see the primary care doctor and then get 5 minutes of their time with no real understanding of Celiac Disease or how it affects other body organs. Neither doctor understood that Celiac Disease affected your whole body! I knew that I really needed to switch doctors. My goal was to not get the blank stare from my primary care physician and endocrinologist when I am dealing with other complications of Celiac Disease. We all know that look; kind of like this:
The Clueless Look
At the same time, one of our regular customers is a doctor, an Internist, who deals with the whole body system not just special parts of the body. She is practicing locally and has Celiac Disease; as does her young daughter. What was I waiting for or afraid of?
Finally, I made up my mind that I deserved a doctor who “gets it” and made the move to Dr. Polgar as my Primary Care Physician. This was by far the best decision that I made in 2016 when it comes to my health and well being. She actually got all of my medical records from all of my specialists to understand the whole picture of my health! She was involved in pre-op for the other surgeries that I had to have last year. I decided to interview Dr Polgar and share her insight, perspective and information with all of you.
When did you know that you wanted to be a doctor?
My parents have been telling me stories about how as a young child I was hospitalized with asthma several times and, as soon as I felt better, I started nagging the nurses and doctors to let me help them. Since my father was also a physician, people always assumed that I was just simply following in his footsteps. However, my father was actually trying to talk me out of becoming a doctor, he thought it was too demanding. It was my experience as a patient that led me down this path.
Where did you go to medical school and where did you do your residency?
I was born and raised in Hungary and went to medical school there as well. After graduation, I finished a 5-year internal medicine residency program and worked as an internist for a few years, still in Hungary. I moved to the US about 15 years ago, initially to conduct cancer research at the National Institute of Health. As fascinating as cancer research is, I missed directly working with patients. So, in order to be able to practice here in the US, I did another 2 years of residency at Harbor Hospital in Baltimore.
What made you decide to specialize in internal medicine?
While I think that subspecialists play a very important role when it comes to patient care, I always wanted a field of medicine where I would deal with the whole person, not just a particular organ system. Being able to build a long term relationship with patients and get to really know them was also vital in my decision.
When and how were you diagnosed with Celiac Disease?
It was my then 7-year-old daughter who was first diagnosed. She had a very typical case with frequent abdominal pain, early satiety and eventually weight loss. It is recommended to screen the first degree relatives of anybody with confirmed celiac disease since there is an approximately 1:10 chance of having it. To be honest, I first had my husband tested because he was frequently complaining of gastrointestinal symptoms, while I was not. When his blood tests came back negative, I was tested and, lo and behold, very high antibody levels were found. Subsequently, a duodenum biopsy confirmed that I have had celiac disease for a long time, possibly my whole life.
Why do you think it is important for primary care physicians to understand Celiac Disease?
For a myriad of reasons. First of all, it is usually the primary care who first sees patients with any new symptom. Even when celiac disease presents itself with typical gastrointestinal symptoms, physicians still often do not think about testing for it. Back in medical school, we were taught that it is a rare mostly childhood disease which, of course, now we know not to be the case. Another reason why it is very important for the primary care doctor to understand celiac disease is because it affects not only the GI system, but pretty much any organ you can you can think of, and seemingly unrelated symptoms could be due to either undiagnosed celiac disease, or gluten exposure in a previously diagnosed patient.
What have you learned about Celiac Disease that has surprised you?
The biggest surprise came through my own diagnosis, that a practically asymptomatic person can have “full-blown” celiac disease. This definitely led me down a path to learn as much as possible about this intriguing disease.
Why did you decide to leave Johns Hopkins and start your own practice?
I was growing more and more frustrated with what I call “assembly line medicine”. Decreasing insurance reimbursements force practices to compensate by seeing more patients. The only way to do that is to spend less time with one patient. I found myself not having time to do the things that I probably enjoy the most in medicine: educating patients and being able to thoroughly think through cases. As I mentioned previously, I like to look at the whole person not just concentrate on a single complaint. This cannot be done in 10-15 minutes.
How is your practice set up to give patients the individual attention that they need along with the best possible care?
My practice is based on a novel idea called Direct Primary Care (DPC). The name refers to the direct financial relationship between the patient and the doctor. By leaving the middle man (the insurance company) out, the distorted financial incentives disappear. This is the only model that I found where the interest of the patient is aligned with the interest of the physician. It allows for significantly longer visits (our new patient visits are scheduled in 90 minute slots), much more personalized care, better access to the doctor (we guarantee same or next day appointments, and my patients have my email and cell phone number in case they need to reach me outside of normal office hours). I could go on and on about the benefits of direct primary care.
How can patients reach you?
The practice is located at 8895 Centre Park Drive, Suite E, Columbia, MD 21045. Our main office number is (443) 864-5503. A lot more information about me and the practice can be found on our website: http://www.drpolgar.com Click Here