Why I had to fire my primary care doctor

I like my PCP. She is knowledgeable, kind, efficient, and trusts that I know my body best. All great qualities in a doctor.

But I need to fire her and find someone new. Why? Her support staff and their administrative systems don’t work for me. They make it difficult for me to access timely care and I dislike that very much.

Some background: I rarely visit the doctor. Overall, I’m healthy and very thankful for that. But this week I have a sinus infection and I know that it needs to be treated before I get desperately ill and miserable. So I call my doctor.

The woman who answers the phone sounds annoyed from the first syllable out of her mouth. I asked for Dr. Smith’s office and the response I get is: “Immediate appointments or annual physical appointment?”

Me: “Um, I have a sinus infection, so immediate appointment please.”

Woman: No response…immediate ‘click’ to the lovely music that lets me know I’m on hold.

Hold. Hold. Hold. Recording telling me to see web site for H1N1 vaccine information. Hold. Hold. Hold. Recording on H1N1. Hold. Hold Hold.Recording. Hold. Hold. Hold.

20 minutes on hold.

I hang up.

Call back later. Same rude woman.

Hold. But only for 10 minues this time.

Spoke to nurse. Nicer. Get appointment. Nurse sighs when I ask her for later appointment in the day so I can get my son to a friend’s so I don’t have to drag him to doctor’s office and expose him to more sick people.

Go to appointment. Receptionist never looks me in the eye, even as he is confirming my birth date, address, insurance, takes my copay and gives me a receipt.Someone’s phone rings in the waiting area and he says loud enough for all to hear, “Turn off your phone,” in annoyed tone.

I see the doctor. Nice, helpful, antibiotics. Yay.

These physicians do good work. Their support staff is poorly trained and rude, for lack of a better word. I actually spend more time interacting with the support staff than the doctor, so I would like to be treated like a human being by the people who are the gatekeepers to my care.

And that “on hold” business? What’s up with that? In contrast, my son’s pediatrician’s office asks you to leave a name and number and they call you back when they are available (usually within 30 minutes). How user friendly and respectful! I won’t fire his pediatrician.

If you have trouble with patients not returning for ongoing care, make sure to take a hard look at your administrative staff and procedures. While YOU may be a fabulous practitioner, your staff may be undermining your good work and reputation without your knowledge.

This can be remedied with good staff training, a clear customer service culture and policy, and possibly replacing staff that do not treat patients with respect.

Remember, every “touch” a patient has with your practice reflects on you fairly or not. Make sure you know how your staff represents you and your good work.

Susan Giurleo is a psychologist who blogs at the BizSaavy Therapist.

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