Should We Expect Customer Service at the Doctor’s Office?

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Many of the pharmaceutical commercials we see on television end with the line “Talk to your doctor about (the medication in question)”, as if doctors would welcome such leisurely chats and were eager to hear our thoughts and ideas about treatment options. In reality, few doctors’ offices are renowned for their customer service.

Waiting Room Blues

Today many of us are spending hours in waiting areas and treatment rooms for what amounts to only a few precious minutes of face time with our doctor, even after having waited months for an appointment. Complaints about our doctors’ bedside manners (or ‘examination-table manners’) are also extremely common. Yet very few of us feel comfortable voicing complaints about such matters, in part because it’s not easy to feel especially assertive while wearing nothing but a paper gown with all the structural integrity of wet toilet paper. Let’s be honest, we’re complaining to someone who has the power to stick us with needles, or worse…fingers!

Even if we wanted to, few of us know how to complain effectively in such situations. So, here’s what you need to know:

Complain to the Correct Person

Those of us who do voice our objections to spending hours in a waiting room typically do so to the nurse or receptionist in the waiting area (much as we tend to complain to the host at a restaurant instead of to the manager). Even our doctor might not have the necessary authority to make procedural changes to how the medical practice operates. We should address our complaints to the head physician of the group, the office manager at the clinic, or the patient-relations officer at the hospital or president of the hospital.

A Medical Practice is a Business—Customers Have Power

Although we might think our complaint will not have an impact, the opposite is true. Clinics and hospitals are businesses as any other and we are their customers. Further, the long-term nature of most patient-physician relationships makes us extremely loyal customers, as we often see the same doctor for years. Loyal customers are the backbone of every business and as such we have more clout than we realize.

Put Your Complaint in Writing

Written complaints are more effective than verbal ones because they provide documentation a physician or clinic manager can share with other decision makers. Make your letter as factual and as non-emotional as possible. Remember to be reasonable. We can state that while we understand emergencies happen and doctors can run long with a given patient, we would like to be informed in a timely manner if that is the case. We can also state that if such delays happen regularly, we will have to consider transferring to another clinic or physician who has more consideration for our time.

Recruit Two Other Patients to Complain With You

Most administrators and decision makers are aware the vast majority of patients do not speak up when they are dissatisfied about issues such as waiting times, doctors’ bedside manners, or the necessity of certain procedures. If they were to receive three or more complaints about the same issue from different patients, they are likely to assume the same concern is shared by even more patients who simply haven’t voiced them. Therefore, three complaints are often sufficient to spur a clinic or practice to reexamine their procedures and address a specific problem.

The next time you find yourself waiting too long for your doctor, look around the waiting room. It shouldn’t be hard to find another patient who would be willing to write a letter if you told them how to complain effectively. Get the name of the head physician or office manager, share it with your complaining partner and banish those waiting room blues.

Does your doctor have good customer service? Leave us a comment with your thoughts. I promise it won’t hurt…

UPDATE: Here’s an example of the right attitude in this article by Dr. Henry Pinkney. I’m not saying Dr. Pinkney read my blog post (mostly because…he didn’t) but he ‘gets it’ nonetheless.

Copyright 2011 Guy Winch

Follow me on Twitter @GuyWinch



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5 Comments for Should We Expect Customer Service at the Doctor’s Office?

Michael McMillan

So I could write for hours on this subject, but I am going to do my best to keep this short and sweet.

The simple answer is Yes, doctors office should offer Great customer service. But, the bigger issue is that due to increased costs and still no cap on malpractice suits, most offices are ran like a production line to maximize profitability. I am not saying this is correct, but in most cases I have found that medical offices really want to sympathize and help patients, but most just cannot afford it anymore.

The other major issue is that many practices don’t want to change how things are done internally. I have been in literally thousands of doctors offices in my life, and I would estimate that 99% of them still are on paper based filing systems and handle 100% of their calls through staffed receptionists or even worse nurses. In the 80’s and even in part of the 90’s this was understandable, but it is the 21st century!!! EMR (electronic medical record) systems are here and well proven. These systems not only speed up productivity and increase the quality of care to the patient, they also allow for clinics/hospitals to finally outsource their “Level 1& Level 2″ Calls (Appointment Taking, Appointment Confirmation, Follow Up Patient Satisfaction Survey Calls, General FAQ, Nurse Triage, etc…) to an outside provider. Doing this can DRASTICALLY increase staff productivity and overall patient satisfaction.

Okay, so yes there are so many more things, but these are a couple that I preach to all my medical director friends. If you just take my advise on these 2 simple things you will increase patient satisfaction to an all time high, as well as increase your bottom line by streamlining productivity.

If you would like to learn more about this, please feel free to email or call me direct. Mike.McMillan@The-Connection.com ; 952-948-5476; or follow me on twitter at @SalesKingOnline

    Guy

    Mike,
    I agree that EMR could free time and resources that could allow medical practices to then offer better customer service to their patients. However, I’m not entirely sure most clinici’s would necessarily implement changes in customer service as a result–unless patients speak up and voice their complaints. Doing so could galvanize the practice to do something about customer service, of which one of the solutions could be utilizing EMR to free staff to make visits more pleasant and efficient for the patients.
    GW

Anon

I don’t think customer service even crosses most doctor’s minds. I don’t it even gets mentioned in medical school. I agree, its up to us patients to complain when we should–that’s the only thing that will get them to pay attention to these kinds of issues.

Traci Entel

I believe that physicians’ offices should be the model for customer service and empathy: http://www.booz.com/media/uploads/Empathy_Engine_Patient_Service.pdf

    Guy

    Traci,
    Great article about the empathy engine, its importance and usefulness in medical offices. I wish there was a way to get information about the work you do out to consumers as well as. It would help raise expectations among the public and make us more likely to demand better customer service in these and other situations.
    But I shouldn’t complain…at least you (via Booz and Katzenbach) are doing your fair share and more in educating businesses!
    Thanks for commenting
    GW