Healthcare Providers Phone Etiquette

There seems to be a lapse in customer service these days in healthcare providers. Often times, it is not with the doctors.  I have been hearing more friends complain about office staff than physicians’ bedside manner. Infact my last experience on the phone finally gave me an insight as to why so many feel that frustration.

After following up on a visit with a provider after close to week, I had spoken with front desk personnel. I hate bothering the nursing staff if not necessary as the backlog of calls they have to handle is immense on a daily basis. If it is not health-related, I have learned it is best not to bog them down with one more call!

My question as to why I had not received a callback after close to a week.  After asking what the call was concerning, I had told her I was waiting on an appointment with a specialist they were setting up. She informed me that the delay was probably due to trying to fit me in the specialist’s schedule.

Now, as a cancer survivor who has seen countless specialists 9 surgeries on my breast and many medical conditions due to chemo side effects on my body, I am well educated on scheduling appointments with specialists, unfortunately. It is imperative to get on their schedule quickly. Doctors can get appointments into specialists quicker than lay people. And if the appointment was made and they were merely trying to get a better date, why was I not informed of, at least, the initial date the appointment was made for?

I went on to explain I needed to see this specialist timely as I was going in for a consultation.  In May I was seeing my current specialist and felt it was only fair to give a window to a new doctor before seeing my current one in case I wanted to make a switch.  She then told me very matter-of-factly that won’t happen. It takes a minimum of 4-6 weeks to see a specialist.   

At this point, I was agitated. I told her that my friend that had relayed to me following up to find out when an appointment was scheduled. I let it go thinking it was a minor issue. And then I was pretty certain she had gotten in to see the specialist quicker than 4-6 weeks. In addition, if they were waiting to call the specialist any longer, the wait would be 4-6 weeks more. Of course, she was still not admitting to the fact a call had not been placed to the specialist sticking to the original they were probably working on getting me scheduled and then going on again to tell me my expectations are unreal.

I asked her then that I was confused as to why this physician had not told me this during our visit when I had made it apparent I needed in timely and why. No response to this statement was given. I suggested she tell the doctor so as he knew since he had given me false hope.   

The receptionist proceeded to tell me with a patronizing tone that everyone knows that it takes that long to get in to see specialists. I detest the word everyone as it is not definitive in business and is a cope out.  I told her normally when a doctor schedules appointments with a specialist; it takes less time which is why they schedule the appointments. If there is that long of a lag, patients schedule the visits themselves. In those times, I would agree with her statement in general, many times.  By now, though, I am wondering if she realizes how often I deal with healthcare providers or that my son is a doctor and my daughter a Nurse Practioner. I did not just walk down the hillside from my hut.

I then ask her how she knows all this for sure as she is speaking for everyone.  To my surprise, she proceeds to me the names of two of the specialists she sees, complete with the doctors names and how long it took her to see both of them. Okay, now, on my call to find out why I have not received a call back nor an appointment yet for my specialist after a day shy of a week, it has digressed to me getting the name of two specialists of the receptionist’s, doctors I don’t know, don’t care to know, and whom validate to her that all specialists require a 4-6 week minimum waiting period to get in to see them. And through this all, she has copped and attitude and mine matches her.

It becomes obvious, by now, this is not a match made in heaven.  I tell her that perhaps I have picked the wrong healthcare provider and should make a switch. She says nothing back.  I tell her to cancel the appointment they had currently set with the specialist, giving her and the office the benefit of the doubt. I said I want her to sit on my records and as soon as I pick a new healthcare provider I will give her the name to forward my records to.  I then ask for the doctor’s email so I can send him a letter of explanation.

The next response is her telling me that information needs to go through the nurses. Apparently I am not allowed to deliver this to the doctor.  As I am explaining to her I would rather talk or message the doctor directly and why, in mid-sentence, she transfers the call. No explanation, no forewarning the call is being transferred just click - I am on the transfer line.  Realizing my health is now on hold, I recognize my wait of one week to call delayed my own health needs. I now feel the fool for waiting and leaving my other healthcare provider for this new physician. I also recognize what some friends have told me, stress can be brought on by office staff.

When I get the voice mail of the nurse, I am choking back tears of frustration. I left my message saying no appointment was needed since the delay would be too long. I also stated I would eventually move my records to another doctor’s office. I apologized to the doctor for he probably was excellent but I can’t deal with the stress of staff patronizing me and pretending to know more than I about scheduling appointments. Once I hung up, my migraine only picked up in intensity.

Later that same day, I did receive a phone call back from the office. It was from a nurse, not the doctor’s nurse though. No mention of my voice message. She simply told me an appointment time and date for the specialist. I took it down and she said nothing more, nor did I. At this point, I just decided I got the appointment and will consider seeing him but will have to keep the appointment with my current one also as it is less than a week later.

However, I followed up the very next day by calling the specialist’s office.  I asked to be placed on a call back list for any cancellations.  They, in comparison, were extremely nice on the telephone.  I then found out they keep records of when doctor’s offices call in to place appointment requests. Guess?  Yep, the doctor’s office I had been dealing with called after I had placed my call to the receptionist! After I placed the call to the original doctor’s office!

Doctors need to remember to talk to their staff, as my son does, about the importance of the person on the other end of the phone.  You have no idea what is going on with them, what degree of pain they are in and remember they are ‘your customer’.  They are the doctor’s livelihood and without them, the doctor loses business and the office workers are out of job. 

Having worked at all levels, a Director at the American Cancer Society to a sales clerk at Belks I respect all positions in an organization.  Having had cancer, also learned each role is so important. While vomiting a janitor can get you a trash can quicker than a physician so has all the power! The person answering the phone is the gate-keeper for healthcare providers and can make or break the impression created for a patient.

My thoughts are as follows:

  • ·        No one has the right to be patronizing over the telephone
  • ·        Give or get  answers when requested if a reasonable time period has lapsed
  • ·        There is no excuse for poor follow-up
  • ·        Apologize for errors and move on to rectify them
  • ·        Do not get argumentative with someone on the phone to diffuse a situation
  • ·        Maintain a positive upbeat attitude regardless of patient’s demeanor
  • ·        Be compassionate, you have no idea of the pain level of patient on the phone or conversation between physician and patient
  • ·        If unclear of proper response, take a message and don’t argue
  • ·        Don’t be rude and transfer calls without telling the caller first you are doing so
  • ·        Try to retain clients for the Doctor by satisfying their needs


I would love to hear others feedback on this topic. Feel free to make comments here or on my google+ account.

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