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More Milwaukee Doctors Offering Evening, Weekend Appointments

Erin Toner
Dr. Mushir Hassan sees patients on a recent Saturday morning at Wheaton Franciscan Medical Group's Elmbrook clinic.

It used to be that if you wanted to see a doctor for your annual checkup or the flu, your options were Monday through Friday, during the day. But things are changing.

Many providers now offer extended hours to make seeing a doctor more convenient, and discourage visits to emergency centers.

Dr. Mushir Hassan is working through a busy morning of appointments, popping in and out of patient rooms, and pulling up charts on the laptop he totes. All pretty routine, except it’s a Saturday, a day doctors normally have off and many healthcare clinics are closed.

But luckily for Jenny, a 25-year-old patient, Dr. Hassan is on the clock this weekend, and can see her for an annual physical.

Jenny works at a day care center.

“You’re always at risk to get sick when you work with children, and (the clinic is) always very open with their hours and trying to get you in as quick as they can so that when I’m not feeling my best, I can schedule something,” Jenny says.

Hassan is one of a growing number of doctors foregoing family or leisure time to be more accessible to their patients. He and his colleagues take turns staffing the Saturday clinic and a few early morning and evening shifts during the week.

“It’s not easy for everyone to take time off during the week, and when you have a group of six, if we can share it once every six weekends and patients like it, you do it,” Hassan says.

Beyond offering convenience, Hassan says extended hours help keep his patients out of the ER or urgent care.

“I had this discussion with a patient yesterday. I told her, if you go to urgent care, I’m disappointed because you should be coming to see me. I can just tell you what to do and we can keep you out of an environment which they won’t have as much familiarity with what’s going on with them.  We have everything here,” Hassan says.

Hassan says gaps develop in medical records, when patients get treatments or prescriptions from outside providers. Those gaps can create problems, such as duplicate tests.

Patients can also miss opportunities for preventative care and education, according to Dr. Robert Wergin, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

“Sometimes quite honestly, when people come in for a sore throat, I look through and say, Gee, did you realize you haven’t had a mammogram for five years?” Wergin says.

The academy says half of family doctors around the country now offer extended hours. Wergin says the numbers have been growing as providers become medical homes, where patients are at the center of comprehensive, team-based care. He says it leads to better health outcomes and lower costs.

“And we feel it’s cause you can get that access, get your problems addressed before they get more serious and enter the system at a lower cost with someone you trust and know,” Wergin says.

Here in the Milwaukee area, doctors in other health systems are also working non-traditional hours. For example, practitioners from Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin staff 10 primary care clinics on evenings and Saturdays.

Froedtert Health President and CEO Cathy Jacobsen acknowledges that one driver is meeting patient demand.

“It is about competition. If we can be better for access for patients or for referring specialists, then that’s going to be better for us,” Jacobsen says.

At the Wheaton clinic in Brookfield, Dr. Mushir Hassan checks in on 20-year-old Everett, who’s come to establish care. He says his second-shift job as a machinist doesn’t leave a lot of time for errands, let alone seeing a doctor.

“If we didn’t have this on the weekend, I would have to plan ahead for weeks, and I don’t know if I’m working overtime until I’m actually working overtime, so having this is really nice,” Everett says.