Let me start with the simple, to-the-point reason why I fired my doctor before I elaborate further: He and his office staff forgot that they are a business and that I am a customer. Period. Pretty to the point.
I am writing this article, because unfortunately this is a not all-to-uncommon experience that many have experienced, but few have addressed. As customers, we need to address it. We need to take bold steps or these unacceptable practices will not stop. I have not been able to figure out for the life of me why medical offices believe that the basic courtesies expected from other business providers just simply don’t apply to them.
This decision did not come easily. I have seen the same doctor for over 10 years. I like him. He is personable and knowledgeable. I like the nurses, the physicians assistants and the medical assistants that work in his office. All of this, however, was not enough to keep me on as a patient. I had reached a point where instead of feeling that my provider was a partner in my health, they had become a detriment to my health.
Allow me to provide the background before I illustrate the specific incident that led to my very direct statement to my provider that, “I will be looking for a new doctor.”
Lack of respect for my time. In 10 years, I have not had one single appointment that has happened on-time. In fact, I have had only a bare few that have happened in what I would call a “reasonable” amount of time. Keep in mind that if I arrive more than 20 minutes late for an appointment (which I never have), the office policy is to cancel my appointment and charge me for it. The office, however, has no such provision to reimburse me when I have sat in the lobby for as long as an hour and fifteen minutes after my scheduled time. Then when I am actually placed in an exam room, I have waited up to another 45 minutes to even have the doctor come in the room. Approximately five years ago, I went into the office for a routine annual physical. My appointment was for 11:45am. I returned home from the appointment at almost 4:00pm. I did not stop on the way home; I live less than 10 minutes from the doctor’s office.
Just to be an additional little thorn in my side, when I receive the 24-hour pre-appointment reminder call, they actually have the nerve to ask me to arrive 15 minutes before my appointment time in case I need to update any paperwork.
Disinterested reception staff. When a business hires any employee who has to have ongoing and frequent contact with the public, they need to make sure that those people are truly customer service-oriented. While some of the staff who work the reception desk have been friendly, one, who also happens to be the office manager and the person with whom all patients must check out is simply as cold as a dead fish. No smiles, no easy conversation, no interest in what the patients asks or needs. She simply wants to collect your copay, schedule your next appointment, and move you along. I’m not asking for balloons and confetti when I get to the desk, just courtesy.
Lack of internal communication. It is quite amazing to me, particularly now in the age of electronic medical records, how poorly doctor offices can communicate within their own walls. Recently, I was due for a refill on a prescription. I had a physical scheduled, but due to a work conflict had to reschedule. As a result, I explained that I would run out of my medication and needed a refill, at least enough to carry me over to my new appointment time. The office would provide me no answer at that time. I was told “we will leave a message for the doctor and see what he wants to do.” I never heard back. I don’t know if the doctor received the message and simply was too bothered to do anything, or if the staff never relayed. Oh, what the heck, just my blood pressure medication, no big deal…right?
Unreasonable scheduling. This is what really signaled the end for my doc. As I previously stated, I had an appointment for my annual physical scheduled. At 50 years old, with a family history of heart issues, I think this is pretty important. The appointment was for in mid-September. Do to the length of time in advance that I had to make the appointment, I had no idea that a work-scheduling issue would mean I would have to reschedule, but it did, and I contacted the office well in advance and sought to reschedule. The next available appointment I was told was early November. I took it, placed it in my calendar and even made sure I had things cleared so that I would not miss it again. On the day before the appointment I got a call from the office. The doctor was going to be out and had to reschedule. I asked the earliest date, thinking that they would get me in in just a few more days. December 22 was the earliest he could see me I was told; and that did it. I advised the young lady on the phone that I was a ten-year patient and that we had already had to reschedule once. I told her that I was out of my prescription as no one had gotten back with me after the last reschedule, as they were supposed to. I wanted an earlier date. She was apologetic, but stated there were no other days. That was when I advised her that I would not be rescheduling, that I would be looking for a new doctor.
I have also followed up with a letter directly to the doctor as I am not sure that he will receive any information on this from his staff.
I had reached a point where I was no longer contacting or interacting with my doctor’s office. When this happens, it becomes, as I said early in this piece, a detriment to my health. I avoid dealing with health related issues because dealing with the doctor’s office feels to be an even worse alternative. And that is wrong!
I have fired doctor’s before. Several years ago I let my optometrist go for very much the same reasons. My “new” optometrist is proof that there are better doctors out there who are far more respectful of their clients needs.
As consumers we need to stand up and let providers know that this level of service is simply not acceptable. We would have no compunction releasing an attorney, a CPA, or a financial planner from servicing us for the same reasons, why is it we seem to be afraid to stand up to medical providers? Perhaps if they began to lose business, they would become keenly aware that changes need to occur.
Like most professions these days, at least if you live in a larger metropolitan area, doctor’s are a dime-a-dozen. They need us as patients to be successful and remain in practice. They need to work with our needs, not the other way around.
I hope you take the time to think seriously about your relationship with your doctor. Is it what you want? If so, congratulations and by all means stay put, because you have something that many, many of us long for. If, on the other hand, this article rings true with your experience, and I know from many I have talked to that this is NOT an uncommon scenario, seriously consider either 1) talking to or 2) firing your doctor. It’s your health and the only life you get. You have the right to expect the very, very best that can be provided.