Checking in

Dr. Tommy Daugherty confers with Patient Care Advocate Terry Ruedger at the Franklin County Free Medical Clinic located in the Franklin County Annex Building.

Dr. Tommy Daugherty dislikes computers, especially those mandated to replace paper versions of medical records.

“When I practiced most of my career, a doctor would sit with a patient and take careful notes in a one-on-one conversation,” he said.  “Now, a doctor walks in with a computer, follows a template of questions that must be asked for insurance purposes and spits out a remedy for the patient being seen.

“It’s all based on data, efficiency, and getting the most money out of a doctor visit. The meat and potatoes are hard to find in the newer computerized system.”

That is why Dr. Daugherty drives from Chattanooga to Winchester once a week as a volunteer staff member at the Free Clinic located in the Franklin County Annex Building, a creation of Dr. Tom Smith, a retired physician from Winchester.

Dr. Daugherty also appreciates that he doesn’t have to deal with overhead issues.

 “There is a tremendous amount of responsibility as a practicing physician with an office, staff, logistics, licensing, insurance, plus providing patient care to 35 people a day,” he said. “This gives me the opportunity to help people and keep my skills fresh, and I am glad Dr. Smith and I got together on this. We are not turning anybody away; anybody who wants to can be seen here.”

Dr. Daugherty’s journey to Franklin County began in Nashville, where he attended Father Ryan High School and later went to medical school. 

“I started out wanting to be a nurse,” Dr. Daugherty said. “Then, after some training, I just decided becoming a doctor was the thing to do, so I got my training and performed my residency in Rome, Georgia.

“I ended up in Norris, Tennessee, then Clinton, and finally migrated to Oak Ridge, where I practiced until I retired in July 2019.”

Dr. Daugherty said he saw an opportunity to help people struggling with illnesses who could not afford a regular doctor, and he started a free clinic in Oak Ridge so that hospitals could discharge patients with the certainty they would have a place to go for follow-up care.

 “It’s the same here now,” Dr. Daugherty said. “Patients at (Southern Tennessee Regional Health System) can come to our clinic and see us. Otherwise, they cannot get out of the hospital for follow-up,” Dr. Daugherty said. “I was working 80 hours a week in my own practice and helping out at my clinic, too, so I was a busy man.

“What shoved me toward retirement was the shift to computerized record-keeping and all the training and costs for making that transition. As that was happening, we lost sight of the true doctor-patient relationship and started focusing on numbers and profit.

“I actually had insurance people sitting with me analyzing my patient visits and suggesting ways to write my charts so that it would add $20 to the diagnosis!”

When it came time for him to retire, his wife and daughter wanted to move to Chattanooga, so he gave it all up and went with them to Hamilton County, where he now lives in the NorthShore neighborhood near the Girls Preparatory School.

“I met Tom Smith a year or two before I retired at a family practice conference we attended and sat with him at a table. When I asked what he was doing, all he said was that he was running a free clinic in Winchester.”

It wasn’t long before his own experience as a free clinic director and a chance to keep his hand in medicine enticed Dr. Daugherty to volunteer for the Franklin County opportunity, where no federal funding is used and thus the freedom to practice medicine like he used to is the norm.

So Dr. Daugherty kept his license and insurance and volunteered in Franklin County.

Dr. Daugherty said that most of his patients are between 35 and 65 years old, suffering from diabetes or hypertension, and the complications thereof.

“A lot of illnesses are genetic, so my advice is to know your parents’ situations and watch out for their symptoms in you. We have no computers here for working our charts,” Dr. Daugherty said while grinning. “That’s one reason I love it. Plus, we’re all volunteers.

 “God knew I needed something, and Dr. Smith is a wonderful person. This has been a godsend that keeps me active in medicine, and the patients are so thankful. This is the way it used to be.”