A PATIENT’S PERSPECTIVE
AN OPEN LETTER TO DOCTORS
By Jim “Gymbeaux” Brown, April 9, 2013
What is the similarity to being a patient in a doctor’s office and being placed on HOLD?
Today I had a 10:00 doctor’s appointment. I NEVER like to be late for anything so I make it a point to always arrive early. In this case I arrived at 9:25 for a 10:00 appointment. I checked in and surprisingly was taken to the “back” early, 9:50. I was checked in by the nurse and was told that the doctor would see me shortly.
So back to being placed on HOLD while on the phone. Do you have any idea just how long 30 seconds are to a person who is on HOLD? You and I both know that 30 seconds is a very brief segment of time. But to the person on HOLD it is an eternity. Why? Because usually the first thought is if you are not listening to a very poor audio quality music tape, is to question whether the person who answered the phone and placed you on HOLD has forgotten about you. Admit it, that is exactly what you thought. If you want to test this, find a clock or watch with a second hand. Pick up the phone receiver as if you have just made a call and then wait for 30 seconds to see just how long 30 seconds can is/seem. It is not long at all to the person who answered the call for they know what they are doing; or not. But the person who placed the call, that would be you, it does seem like an eternity.
Now back to the doctor’s office. Once the nurse checked me in and put in the examination room, the door was closed. The room was an 8x8 room with two chairs, an examination table, cabinet and sink. Located around the walls were posters created by drug manufacturers depicting the various things that could be wrong with you and their medication that would or might be the solution to a problem you did not even know you had. The walls were painted grey and an even darker shade of grade baseboards. The floor was tile and nondescript.
So I took my position in one of the two chairs; not all that comfortable chairs I might add. I looked around this 8x8 room with no window and a closed door. I looked at the two magazines that were made available to read, not a good sign. My thinking was why would they place magazines in an examination room? Am I going to be here a while waiting to see the doctor? Will I be waiting long enough to actually read a magazine? And besides, neither magazine subject matter appealed to me. Now had one of them been a golf magazine, that’s another story.
Then came the similarity of being placed on HOLD. The “short time” became several minutes and then several minutes became 17 minutes. During this time, I could hear the voices of an indeterminable number of assistants and possibly doctors outside the door. Where any of them coming to see me, I thought to myself. For at least 15 of the 17 minutes I kept wondering, did they forget about me in here? There was no way to know for certain. I kept reminding myself that this is the way they do business, not to worry. And then I realized that most doctors don’t consider themselves as being in business but they are. When a doctor decides it is time to move on or retire, the value in their medical practice is their patient database and a database IS the doctor’s business.
Basic rule of a successful business: Feed your database every day. Create relationships with those people in your database and treat them as kings and queens when you get the opportunity to serve them. All of your technical training and the power of your staff are useless if a patient feels he or she is not appreciated or welcome and instead is being treated like just another number in today’s patient visits.
Giving credit where credit is due, the first words out of the doctor’s mouth upon entering the room was to apologize for the delay. Let’s face it, no doctor can ever estimate the time it will take to properly serve a patient’s needs just prior to seeing to your needs.
Soooooooo, to all doctors who may read this Nugget, here are few suggestions.
1. Understand that the patient’s time has a value just as the doctor’s time has a value. Making a patient wait is costing that patient time-money just as making a doctor would cost the doctor time-money if made to wait or if a patient fails to show for an appointment.
2. Rooms (exam rooms) without windows begin closing in on most people after a few minutes.
3. Instead of posting medical posters around waiting rooms and exam rooms, why not post motivational posters with great photographs and quotations?
4. Install large, visible stop watches outside exam room doors where the patient can see them. Hit the start button when the patient is placed in a room and only turn it off when the doctor enters the room. This will let the patient know the staff is concerned about the patient’s wait time and will let the doctor clearly see when an excessive time has lapsed before the doctor’s actual entrance.
5. Think about the color used to decorate (or not) the examination and waiting rooms. Why use drab and depressing colors in rooms where patients who typically have deep concerns about their health are asked to wait.
6. Only one doctor that I have seen over the years appeared to keep notes on me regarding life issues other than medical. For example, I may not have seen this doctor for months, even years, but when I did see him again he immediately asked me about my real estate business, my family and in one case even my dog. I know that he did not remember these things off the top of his head but maybe he did. I believe he kept notes. More importantly, he obviously reviewed those notes prior to meeting with me so as to know what to talk about in addition to my health, imagine that. Do you think I was impressed?
For patients, how many times, if ever, have you written thank you notes to your healthcare providers? I won’t wait for the answer because I know this rarely happens. But think about this. If your doctor’s business is actually his or her database, which it is, would it not be in your doctor’s best interest to have written testimonials available to show to another doctor how valuable your doctor’s patients are and what they think about the doctor and the doctor’s service and staff? Such notes would be future money in the bank for your doctor given that you think enough of the individual and service to write a thank you note.
I recently purchased several copies of Joe Tye’s “The Florence Prescription. From Accountability to Ownership” and have given a copy to each of the doctors I have seen over the past several weeks. This is a great book about healthcare but more importantly a great book about good business sense regardless of the type of business. Copies can be purchased for just $5.00 a copy at http://www.sparkstore.com/motivational-book-florence.html. Give a copy as a gift; it may be the best use of $5.00 you will have ever made.