Why doctors have poor customer service

One of my docs was telling us about a patient’s experience at another practice. Apparently, the parent was at her wits end with her crying baby. She called the  on call doctor to ask for advice and the doctor told the patient, “your baby has colic’s; turn on the vacuum and stop calling.”

It turned out the baby had some gastric condition (not colic) and needed treatment. The patient ended up leaving the practice and ended up at ours.

I do not know what the exact circumstances were. Sometimes patients can tell a story that completely justifies their actions. So in the absence of the complete story, I am not going to rag on the rude doc.

But the fact is we hear stories like this all the time. I’ve encountered people that have been so rude, I actually thought I was on one of those prank shows where the objective is to see how long the customer goes before blowing his lid. No, “You Got Punk’d!” They were legitimately rude.

I think we — and when I say we, I mean the provider side of health care — can all agree that we do a poor job (generalizing of course) with customer service. I mean let’s face it, very few of us could go up against a Southwest Airlines.

Why is that? Why aren’t we better?

I think one of the reasons we have poor customer service is because we are overwhelmed. There are so many patients, and so few of us, that if we are rude to people and they leave, it’s almost a blessing because that is one less patient to worry about.

But it wasn’t always like this. Think back to when the practice was brand new. Think back when you got your first job after residency in a private practice. How did you view the parent then? As a nuance or as an opportunity to help?

The interesting thing is that when practices are just starting, they pull out all the stops for patients. This is also true when numbers are down. I’m sure it happens to the best of us.

It seems to me that the challenge is to have enough patients to keep growing, but not enough where we get too overwhelmed.

Brandon Betancourt manages a pediatric practice and blogs at Pediatric Inc.

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