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Physicians Must Be Prepared for All Kinds of Patient Behavior


Medical practices are like any service-based profession, so there are bound to be unhappy, uneducated, or just plain strange customers.

People who work in service professions often have to put up with behavior that would make Emily Post roll over in her grave. They are expected to keep a smile on their face and provide the service they are being paid for. The customer is always right, after all. Men flirt with waitresses. Gamblers yell at blackjack dealers, as if they have control over what card comes next. The store clerk gets berated if something is out of stock.

In the medical office, we are often faced with similar bad behavior. Sometimes it is the person with a balance that needs to be squared away. Last week, a patient was here who didn’t want to pay her balance (that was several months old) because she didn’t understand why she had a balance (Medicare deductible). She was asked to call the number on her statement so she could speak to the billing manager who would explain it to her. It says it right on the statement "call xxx-xxx-xxxx with any billing questions." Like a petulant child, she just said, "No, I don’t want to."

Then there are the patients who just have no boundaries and some who are just clearly ignorant about proper etiquette. Imagine being a doctor from the Middle East and being asked by a patient, "So was it hard going to med school in a tent?" Or being Asian and being told, "Wow, you speak English very well." My response to that was, "Yes, so do you." And a female physician who is overweight had two patients congratulate her on her non-existent pregnancy. And I had one patient who expressed his disappointment when I was wearing pants instead of a skirt one day.

Well, we understand we are here to provide a service, and while we may not want to pals with our patients, we continue to provide them with care; even if that means keeping a fake smile on our face and ignoring stupid questions.

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