Two big screening procedures recently became due for me. As a result, I have spent more time in physicians' offices as a patient during the last two weeks than I usually spend in two years. The experiences have reminded me that patients are not always either crazy or unreasonable; sometimes they are treated badly. Here are some examples.
Offensive handmade signs:
During my appointments, I noticed several signs that were off-putting. Each of these signs looked as though it was produced in a fit of pique. They put me on notice that I was about to have to deal with at least one angry person. For example:
"Sign in and sit down. Don't tap on the glass. We'll open it when we are ready for you."
"TURN OFF ALL CELL PHONES"
"No food or drink, water only"
"PAYMENT DUE AT TIME OF SERVICE – NO EXCEPTIONS"
One might argue that patients are rude and thoughtless, so these signs are necessary. On the other hand, rude and thoughtless people have a tendency to ignore requests and directives. Wouldn’t it be better to assume good behavior and deal with bad as it occurs?
First names only
At one office, the staff consistently addressed me as “Carol.” That is disrespectful. I am glad to be “Ms. Stryker” or “Carol Stryker.” Using only my first name is way too informal for what is a business setting. It can also be confusing when multiple people with the same first name are in the waiting room.
It could be argued that the disclosure of both my first and last name is a HIPAA violation. I am inclined to view it as an acceptable incidental disclosure, particularly since my name is on a sign in sheet and I am sitting in full view. If uncomfortable with using both names, use the last name only, with Mr. or Ms. in front of it.
Mind reading required
In several circumstances, staff clearly wanted me to do something but gave me no clue what it was. For example, the window in the reception area would open, and someone I couldn't see would say “Carol,” and wait. Was I to confirm my presence, go to the window, or what? Only when I rose, crossed the room and presented myself at the window would I get a hint. How hard is it to say, "Ms. Stryker, can you come here, please?" It would actually take less time because I would be able to comply more quickly.
Another time, I had to move from one office to another for a test. It involved going down one elevator, transferring to another elevator, walking down a hallway and into another office, and then sitting down in a row of chairs outside the procedure room. The good news is that I had an escort, but she said not one word during our trek. I had to follow blindly and infer that I was supposed to sit down at the end of our journey. When the test was complete I had to track someone down to ask if I was free to go.
Asking a question and not waiting for the answer
This was so odd I may not be able to explain it well, and it happened several times in one office. The staff person would ask me a question I could answer from memory, e.g., any changes in your meds since last week? She would then turn away from me to do something else and leave me waiting until she was done. When she turned back to me, I could say 'No'. In the first place, it is inefficient to interrupt short tasks before completing them. In the second place, who is providing a service to whom?
All in all, I was irritated, uncomfortable and confused during each appointment.
That brings me to a more positive experience I had that shows just how little time and effort it takes to provide excellent customer service.
While waiting in pre-op before one of my procedures I decided to go to the restroom. The nurse who saw me getting off the gurney scooted over to remind me to keep my hospital gown closed in the back. The three seconds it took to provide that friendly reminder saved discomfort and embarrassment for both of us! Remember that your patients are people, and treat them that way.