A Heart for medicine: Taking time to care

By on December 17, 2010

Elburn MD closes solo practice after 10 years
by Lynn Meredith
Elburn—In this day of fast-paced, revolving-door medicine, the opportunity to spend time with your personal physician is almost non-existent—unless you were a patient of Dr. Tom Collinett of Elburn Health Associates. Collinett was known by his patients as a doctor with a big heart who took the time to care.

Elburn Health Associates closed on Nov 5. The doctor said he needed to cut back, because the pressures of running a solo practice were taking their toll.

“I spent so much time taking care of others that I neglected my family and my own health,” Collinett said. “I’m basically retired, but I will probably go back and do something part-time.”

Those who worked with Collinett testified to the care he gave his patients. His medical assistant, Sarah Lindeman, said that because of the time he took with patients, they were devoted to him.

“He spent a lot of time in the exam room—often 45 minutes. The patients felt like he was their doctor, but they also felt like he was their friend,” Lindeman said. “His elderly patients loved it because they got the respect they wanted and not just a 30-second visit. If they had questions, he would take the time to find out when the symptoms started and locate the cause. He would go above and beyond just writing out a prescription.”

Even though he says what he’ll miss most about leaving Elburn is the people, Collinett particularly enjoyed seeing older patients.

“I have a soft spot for my older population. I feel I deserted them. They will not get the same type of care,” Collinett said. “Some of the Medicare patients have five or six significant problems and are on various meds that they might not remember. You often have to get the families involved.”

So loyal were his patients that some followed him out to Elburn from Chicago, where he practiced more than a decade ago. Patients would wait for over an hour to see him when he was running late.

“Many patients, when I run into them at the store, keep asking about him,” Medical Assistant Sylwia Balaga said. “I’m so sad. I wish I could still work for him. I miss him and his daughter, Heather. I cried when I heard he was closing the office.”

Although he was raised in the city and practiced there, he always wanted to do small-town medicine and be the family doctor.

“I wanted to do more than just say, ‘Hello, how are you.’ I wanted to actually get to know people in the community,” Collinett said.

He said that medicine has changed over the years and that doctors are being asked to keep office visits short in order to keep their practices afloat.

“It’s sad that medicine has deteriorated to that point. I’m disheartened with the way things are. You should be able to practice medicine the way you want,” Collinett said. “But when it works, it’s very satisfying. I love what I do.”

Both Lindeman and Balaga had nothing but good things to say about their former employer, and they both would go back in a heartbeat.

“I know that his heart is medicine. It’s what he did to make himself happy. He would come in with his whole heart,” Lindeman said.