As an insurance-carrying, responsible, adult member of society, I have seen my share of medical professionals, and the older I get, the more that trend is likely to continue. With very few exceptions, I run into the same issues time and time again. For a supposedly intelligent bunch, the medical people I deal with on a semi-regular basis can do some pretty dumb things.
So as a service to “the rest of us,” here are things I as a patient want to tell my doctor, my dentist, my hygienist, my dermatologist, my ophthalmologist, my optometrist, my periodontist, my endodontist, my podiatrist, my physical therapist……What!?!? You don’t have all these numbers in your contacts list? Just wait. You will.
But I digress. Back to the list.
1. Don’t breeze into the exam room and ask, “How are you?” unless you really want to hear my list. With very few exceptions (regular teeth cleanings/eye exams/physical exams), I am sitting in your exam room because I have a problem that I think you can solve. “How can I help you today?” would be a better opening line that would make me feel less required to ask you the same question, going round and round with pleasantries, and not risk wasting the few precious minutes I get to actually spend with your undivided attention.
2. Consider the setup of your office and exam rooms with respect to patient privacy. In almost every case, I can hear exactly what goes on in the next room, including the entire conversation you are having with that patient. I shudder to think that other patients are hearing every word that we exchange when it’s my turn. And adding to the horror are offices where I can also hear the procedures going on next door. Ick.
In one notable exception, the nurse at my physician’s office who does the preliminaries–weight/bp/pulse–does so quietly and without comment. I don’t look at the number on the scale when I step on, and she doesn’t announce it either–just writes it down. Bless you, Kelly. It’s sometimes the little things.
3. Running behind schedule is a fact of life in the medical world, and most patients just accept it. Waiting in the waiting room is understandable. Acceptable, to a point–other patients run behind, or there is an emergency, or a procedure takes longer than expected, or the schedule is overbooked to account for no-shows. I understand and accept all of these things. What frosts my cookies is being called into an exam room and having to wait in there for what feels like eons–at least plop a basket of outdated reading material in there.
And for heavens sake, if there is going to be a delay of more than a half hour or so, tell the patients and give them the chance to reschedule. We have lives, jobs and schedules, all of which have been rearranged to keep an appointment.
4. Saying “I don’t know” is not a cardinal sin. As long as you have a Plan B, most patients I know would rather have a medical professional admit to being stumped by a particular problem than to feed the patient a line of BS. We can tell when you are talking in circles or just speculating–we’ve already been to the internet to look up the possibilities before we came to see you and pony up our co-payment.
Yes, I know. WebMD is the bane of every physician. But there is a lot of information out there, and I think having a lot of information is not a bad thing.
5. In the same vein, saying “I was wrong” will not make your patients hate you, or mistrust you, or leave you. In fact, it is much preferable to admit it than to try to cover it up–we almost always can tell when you are trying to talk your way around a mistake or a miscommunication. Tell me you forgot to order the test, not that the results aren’t back yet, because then I might just call the lab myself, and when I find out the test was never ordered, I’m going to be even angrier. It’s simple human nature, and a lesson most of us learn when we’re 5.
6. Don’t waste our time with unnecessary appointments. Anytime I hear the word “consultation,” I cringe. That usually means a separate appointment, a rearranged life and work schedule, five minutes with the doctor, another co-pay (if my insurance pays at all), and another appointment several weeks or months later for the actual procedure.
Now, in some cases, the initial visit and the consultation are a combined visit, and I’m on board with that. In almost every instance, I have already decided to commit to the procedure, so an appointment dedicated to convincing me of its necessity is a waste of my time. I also know that some patients need the consultation appointment to decide on the procedure and the not-inconsequential costs. But if I already know these things, the consultation should be optional.
7. We trust you, or we would not be putting our care into your hands. So trust us. Tell us what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it. The instruments you are using are unfamiliar to most of us, and are often intimidating or downright scary-looking. Tell us what they are for, and what you are planning to do with them, and why. It might be routine to you, but it’s all new to most of us. We don’t know where you are planning to put that shiny metal object, and if you explain what you’re doing with it and why, we just might relax a little more.
And for goodness’ sake, tell us what to expect when we go home. I had a gallbladder incision once that started “spitting stitches”–the internal stitches worked their way to the surface. Your body expelling foreign objects is a scary thing. Had I been warned that it was a possibility, I’d have been a little less freaked out.
The best medical experience I ever had was with an eye surgeon who, the night before my procedure, called me to explain exactly what would happen, step by step, during my surgery. We must have been on the phone for an hour, and he ended the call by advising me to get a good night’s sleep. The next morning when I arrived at the eye center for my procedure, the doctor and his staff made me feel like I was the only patient in the building. During the surgery, the doctor explained every step–what to expect, what was going to happen, and what he was doing–in such great detail that my nervousness evaporated and was replaced by fascination with the procedure. Not only did he gain a fan for life, but the word of mouth advertising he has gotten from me has been invaluable.
8. Your staff can make or break you. You have spent all that time and money on your medical training, and you got your staff from where? An ad in the newspaper? Fine, but are they trained? Are they familiar with HIPPA rules? Are they pleasant? Are they happy to be working with YOU? Are they paid enough that they don’t feel taken advantage of? Is your office understaffed? Are the same people you rely on to keep patients happy also being asked to clean your office and scrub the bathrooms? Are the people who answer the phones also buried under insurance paperwork?
These are important considerations for the people who spend considerably more time with your patients than you do, and are often on a first-name basis with them. Your staff, if your patients like and trust them, will sometimes have insight into those patients that can be helpful, but only if they are not overburdened and overwhelmed.
I stayed with a doctor I was considering leaving simply because I adored her helpful front office staff. And because I stayed, I have gotten to know this doctor better, and now I like and respect her. I don’t know what she does to train her staff, but she’s doing it right.
Conversely, don’t expect patients to talk to your staff INSTEAD of you. Relaying test results over the phone is one thing, but interpreting those results is beyond the pale.
I recently had this discussion with an office staffer about some testing I’d had done for a medical issue: Note–I had to call the office to get the results after a week of no contact, when the normal procedure is the office calls with the results in two days.
Me: “I haven’t heard anything from your office and it’s been a week. Are my results back?”
Staffer: “My notes say someone called you.”
Me: “No, they didn’t.”
Staffer: “Oh. Well, everything is normal.”
Me: “Okay, what is the doctor’s Plan B?”
Me: “What does the doctor want to do now?”
Staffer: “I said all the tests were normal. What’s the problem?”
At this point, this FNW had had enough. I requested a callback from the doctor, who did have a Plan B. But that staffer had no business brushing me off like that. If I did not already like my doctor, I’d consider changing practitioners. And yes, I will tell my doctor of this exchange at my next visit.
“No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” –Theodore Roosevelt