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Old Lyme practice focuses solely on females

Published 10/21/2009 12:00 AM

The scope of internal medicine is so vast that at times the field can be a bit overwhelming.

When she was an intern, Dr. Mary Cummings Satti realized that women were more proactive in their approach to maintaining their health. That's why nearly 12 years ago, Satti decided to create an internal medicine practice that caters to women.

"Primary care really has no boundaries, so with a niche for just women, it almost feels like we can get a handle on it," she explains.

Satti has always enjoyed treating women patients because they are more open about their health issues. "I think they like for us to hear what is bothering them," she says.

At Primary Care for Women in Old Lyme, Satti says she is fortunate to work alongside seasoned professionals -- three other doctors, a nurse practitioner and a team of medical assistants, all female -- who take pride in fostering caring relationships with their female patients.

"I'm really lucky that everybody that came to this practice has come my way," she says. "I didn't have to use a recruiting agency, so I was very fortunate."

Drs. Christina McLean and Mary C. Colpoys had experience working with Satti in other settings. Dr. Anisha R. Parekh has been with Satti the longest. The two met through a doctor friend they had in common. Maria Koslawy, an advanced practice registered nurse, rounds out the medical staff.

On a recent day when Parekh was set to talk to a reporter, she opted to stay with a patient who needed immediate, but not emergency, care, instead of sending the woman to a specialist. Satti says that work ethic is the level of care commonly practiced at Primary Care for Women.

Being comfortable in your surroundings goes a long way toward helping patients develop a sound relationship with their caregiver, says Satti.

"When you walk through the door of any doctor's office, you instantly feel angst. You get that feeling in the pit of your stomach. I'm guilty of it myself," she says. "So we try to create an atmosphere of comfort and calmness."

A major part of that effort begins with the front desk staff, who warmly greet patients as they check in at a large window just inside the front door of the practice. They are then directed to a waiting room.

Each healthcare provider is paired with a medical assistant, who records vitals and updates patient charts. At each visit, patients are greeted by the same medical assistant. That familiarity, says Satti, puts patients at ease.

"They know what is happening with a patient as much as we do. They are our right-hand person," she says of the medical assistants. "We want patients to develop a rapport with them as much as us."

Inside the exam rooms, pictures of women at various stages of life -- from teenage to early 80s -- adorn the walls. The bathrooms are also designed with the female patient in mind.

Potpourri, along with a basket filled with tampons and pads, are strategically placed in the bathroom. Scented soap is used for hand washing.

A live person answers the phone during office hours, not an automated system, and calls are routinely returned the same day.

Three doctors are in-house seeing patients daily and they each rotate with one day off during the week where they don't see patients. Satti oversees the practice with office Manager Paula Gonzalez, and on Wednesdays splits her time between those duties and spearheading an office expansion project.

Primary Care for Women occupies roughly 3,200 square feet in the Eastport North Business Park. The four-month project will nearly double the size of the practice.

"We have thoroughly outgrown our space. We can't even meet in my office," says Satti, during a recent interview. "It's either in this little kitchen or a picnic table outside."

Plans call for a full kitchen/conference room, where Satti hopes the staff dietician, Rosemary Gentile, can lead nutrition and cooking classes. Another waiting room, offices, storage, a lab and bathroom will complete the new area.

"Initially it was me, a front office clerk and a medical assistant. That was it for a big chunk of time," Satti says, "but as the number of patients has gotten higher, so has our need to expand to provide quality (service)."

But no matter the number of patients or the advances in treatments or technology, it is still a struggle to get women to focus on their own healthcare.

"We are the sandwich generation. We are raising our kids and taking care of elderly parents and our own health is what we let go," says the doctor. "I tell my patients `If you don't take care of yourself all the people that are depending on you will be lost.' "