CARLO REYES: EMERGENCY ROOM DOCTOR BY NIGHT, HEALTHCARE ATTORNEY BY DAY By J.P. McWaters

To simply call Dr. Carlo Reyes busy would be an understatement. Carlo is not only an attorney, but also is board-certified in emergency medicine and pediatrics, and is also part of the clinical faculty at OliveView-UCLAMedicalCenter in both departments. He is also the assistant director of emergency medicine at LosRoblesHospital in Thousand Oaks.  

Reyes sat down between shifts to share some of thoughts on his unique career.

CITATIONS: Can you describe a typical day as an emergency room doctor?

Carlos Reyes: The emergency room is an  interesting place to work because you don’t know what you’re going to walk into. You have to be able to prepare for anything that comes through the doors and I think that’s what attracted me to emergency medicine. Every day you have to be able to handle any situation. I started my career working the night shift where the hospital runs on a skeleton crew with fewer nurses and staff available. This is when you really hone your skills as a doctor, and depending on what type of facility you work at, dangerous things can happen, especially when you work on weekends. That’s when deadly activity comes in with gunshot wounds or penetrating trauma. Typically, someone might be having a heart attack or stroke in one room and  another patient might be suffering from a broken ankle in another room. You need  to tailor your emotions and responses to meet the needs of the patient. That’s the challenges of the ER. It’s a very fast-paced job and it’s just going to get faster.

CITATIONS: What is your opinion on the PPACA – Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act?

CR: The way things are taking shape – the political climate, an increasing patient census, the shortage of primary care physicians – all these things make emergency medicine a rapidly changing field. Many people are under-insured, or don’t have insurance. But now with the passing of the PPACA people may have insurance, but don’t even know they’re insured or they may have insurance but they don’t have a doctor. The new challenge of the PPACA is that access to a primary care physician is going to be a problem. You may have insurance but what if it takes two months to see a doctor? This is causing a large influx of patients into the emergency room. Instead of waiting months to see their primary doctor, patients wait hours to see an emergency room doctor.  There are still challenges ahead for the Affordable Care Act not only because of the primary care physician shortages, but you’re also seeing a lot of physicians that don’t want to take Medicare or Medicaid any more. I’m not only a doctor, but I am a patient as well, so I see both sides of the primary care access problems. The PPACA is a virtuous cause, but it may not adequately address the primary care shortage, which is critical for its success.

CITATIONS: It’s quite a transition from life and death situations to law. What made you decide to pursue healthcare law?

CR: I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer. My father was a doctor and influenced my decision to pursue medicine. While I was training to become a physician I never forgot my dream to become an attorney. My interest in law was rekindled when I was in emergency medicine and I started to see the frivolous lawsuits. As a physician you try to help patients and you try to do the right thing and at the end of the day as a physician  you are still vulnerable to lawsuits. Initially, I wanted to protect doctors and hospitals from frivolous medical malpractice actions because, in reality, disease states progress, and patients still unfortunately succumb to disease. It bothered me that physicians and hospitals could still be so vulnerable when everything was done right. As a law student, I started to see a larger healthcare perspective. I gravitated to healthcare law because I saw so many other liabilities at play for physicians and hospitals, not just medical malpractice. I saw how healthcare law can be used to protect the whole field of medicine, compared to the individual doctor or hospital. So I see healthcare law protecting medicine on a larger scale, in terms of interpretation of statutes, regulatory practice, policy, which all impacts how healthcare is delivered nationally. I see healthcare law and medical malpractice defense as really different aspects of the same goal: protecting physicians and the delivery of healthcare. 

There are some doctors who end up going into law and they see how lucrative it is on the plaintiffs’ side. There is virtue in being a medical malpractice plaintiffs’ attorney because there are questionable doctors out there. That’s just not the role I wanted to take, because I felt that if I became a medical malpractice plaintiffs’ attorney I would no longer be able to practice medicine. It has always been my intention to continue practicing emergency medicine and pediatrics, so it’s important for me to have the people I work with in the emergency room and in the hospital able to feel comfortable and trust me knowing that I am there to protect them as an attorney.

Carlo Reyes, M.D., J.D., M.S., F.A.C.E.P.,  F.A.A.P. leads the Healthcare Law practice at the medical defense firm Boyce Schaeffer LLP in Oxnard. He is married to Dr. Rebecca Reyes, J.D, and has four young daughters. Rebecca is an inpatient psychiatrist and currently treats patients returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffering from PTSD. She will join Carlos’s firm when she takes the bar in February.  That’s another story …

J.P. McWaters focuses on business development for companies through traditional and new media channels. He can be reached at Fausset Creative in Ventura.

About Bar