Doctors need to be aware of their office staff behavior

by June Parker Beck

At age 73 I have definitely seen the evolution of the whole “doctor” experience, from Ob/Gyn, to pediatrician (have 5 children) to specialist, to internist.

I’ve learned to accept the fact that in this high tech age, we aren’t going to be chatting with our doctor about the grade school bake sale.  The biggest lesson learned, however, was that if you are treated rudely or curtly by a staff member, more often than not, the physician has no idea that this is happening.  You need to tell him – either in person or by a snail-mail letter marked “Personal.”

Most physicians now hold a computer when they interview you before examination.  With stylus in hand he/she remains transfixed on punching the right area on the screen without once looking at you.  It’s the eye contact I truly miss.  Even if it’s just for a second it would be nice.  They would prefer one or two syllable answers, but let’s face it, we patients do tend to ramble on occasion, spouting superfluous symptoms.  The patient should also write down concerns before going to the doctor and take the list with you so you don’t forget those concerns.

When one goes to a doctor because they feel ill (not just a routine check-up), they are usually in an anxious mood and staff needs to realize this.  Some patients are frightened and if they have to go to an office that is not easily accessible (parking, elevators, etc.) and the environment is stiff and intimidating they are not going to get off to a good start.  Doctors and staff need to understand that the patient has a right to expect some extra consideration and comfort.

As we age, lots of things can begin to go wrong in our bodily functions.  At this time we need a doctor to tell us not only what’s wrong with us physically and how to treat it….but also what’s RIGHT with us!  A few compliments can lift the spirits to a point where the patient can have the strength to deal with the physical problems we are treating.  About a decade ago I was in a grocery store I saw this lovely elderly gray haired lady and I (being a bit of an extrovert) walked up to her and said, “You have the most beautiful blue eyes!”…. she smiled at me and said, “Thank you – you’ve made my day.” My compliment was sincere…and so was her response.

I have been the archivist and web-site editor/designer for actress Maureen O’Hara for the past 17 years. It began as a hobby (I was a secretary in Special Needs back in 1n 1991 when this adventure began) and evolved into a friendship.  Maureen just turned 90 on Aug. 17th.  She has battled cancer 3 times and is diabetic and still going strong.  Between the two of us we’ve seen a lot of doctors and we both welcome a kind handshake and greeting from a doctor who looks you in the eye and when he says, “Nice to see you,” really means it.

June Parker Beck is Editor of Maureen O’Hara Magazine.

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  • faisal_q

    This is the price we pay for a minimum wage medical assistance employee pool. They are perceived as disposable labor yet are in demand. When I see nail filing, chewing gum, using the phone for personal use, during my check-in, I have a good idea of how the rest of the visit is going to be.

    “staff need to understand that the patient has a right to expect some extra consideration and comfort.”

    Because most entry level staff are not adequately trained in conflict resolution, physicians can not assume things will just fix themselves.

    Play a proactive role in personel training. The more value in training you give your employees, the more they will place on your patients.

  • Steven Reznick MD FACP

    In our practice we try and hire staff out of the hospitality and customer service industry for that reason. Periodic practice evaluations are passed out to patients so we can get feedback on our performance ( the docs included) and helps identify problem areas and actually encourages helpful suggestions.
    A warm greeting and smile go a long way to making a patient feel comfortable.

    • HTorref

      Nice idea for MD to get patient feedback. Hopefully, action will be taken on information generated by survey/feedback. Warm greeting, smile, courtesy & respect & good service are most welcomed by patients. I I changed my child’s pediatrician because of bad customer service from her staff who are her relatives. I knew whatever feedback she gets will get no action. She may be a good pediatrician, but there are other good pediatricians with good staff. HTorref

  • imdoc

    Thanks for realizing the doctor doesn’t always know what the staff is doing, despite efforts to do so. You are quite right that the staff has great impact on the patient experience. When interviewing a practice years ago, I went in early and sat in the waiting room for awhile incognito to get a sense of the patient “buzz” and feel for the flow of things. Thankfully the days of nurses hiding behind a frosted glass window are over. It always struck me oddly as reminiscent of “The Wizard of Oz”. Still, computers can be something to hide behind, so a balance is needed.

  • Greg

    Remember that in modern practices, doctors are not the ones who hire and fire office staff. Usually large corporations like healthcare conglomerates are responsible for the staffing. So even if you tell your doctor a staff member is problematic, he/she may be powerless in the corporate hierarchy to do anything about it.

    Indeed, if office staff are unionized, it may be easier for the doctor to get fired than the staff member, so the doctor might have an extra incentive not to be a martyr.

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