This article first appeared in Pregnant Magazine -Pregnancy & Birth Magazine For Today’s Woman and Her Man.. Issue 50
Recently my good friend told me a story about a ‘nightmarish’ paediatrician. Her regular doctor had travelled and had someone else sitting in her place. This new doctor apparently was very brisk and all business like. Spoke only to my friend and did not even once turn to talk to or acknowledge her child. In the space of less than five minutes, this doctor had listened to the symptoms, opened up the child’s clothes, palpated his stomach, locating the pain point only by the child’s anguished cry of pain, prescribed medicine and quickly rushed them out whilst ushering in the next patient. Needless to say after my friend’s narration, I quickly noted down the doctors name and full details. And although I don’t know her and have never seen her, I am completely certain that I will never visit her clinic under any circumstances. I have also told as many people as I know and care about who have children this same story. Bad news does travel fast.
This story got me thinking about why in the medical fraternity, customer care seems to take a back burner compared to other sectors. A doctor’s practice is indeed a business isn’t it? Would any business owner travel and leave their business in the hands of another practitioner who does not greet the main client or make them feel at home? Who doesn’t listen to them, proceeds to prod and pummel them, give them instructions and quickly send them on their way? How good is this behaviour for business? Does this kind of service guarantee that customers will be overflowing at the doorstep rushing in to patronize business? The answer is indeed rather obvious right?
Most of us feel completely powerless while at the doctor’s office. Whereas during interactions in other areas of life, we may be completely empowered and vocal, at the doctor’s we are quite mum and I often wonder why. Is it because we are still rooted in the concept that the doctor is ‘god’ that was installed in our childhood? Where the doctor was this wonderful being sent down to earth to cure us of all our ailments? That all one had to do was go to the doctor’s office, describe one’s problems and a magic pill would be prescribed that would take it all away?
Or is it the then and still continuing over glorification of doctors? Where the medical profession was and is still deemed to be more superior to other professions? Where one’s parents basked in the glory and elevation of societal praise if their son or daughter was studying medicine and were the subject of admiration and envy?
Much has changed and is still changing and the current patient is more discerning and requires much more from their doctor at a partnership level. No longer is the doctor- patient relationship a ‘superior –inferior’ relationship but has moved on to being a ‘partner-in-the-process-of-my- medical-care’ relationship.
Let’s take for example the waiting room experience. Many patients are not clear about the systems in place and the process to see the doctor. This is often left to the dictates of the personnel at the doctor’s front office. Some doctor’s offices run on an appointment system and some on a walk in basis. Whichever way, very often there are patients snuck into the register in between appointments or who are said to have come earlier( although not physically present) and are ushered in to see the doctor before others waiting in the queue. The machinations of the front office staff, who manipulate the queue and appointment systems, leave many patients whispering in angry protest in waiting rooms.
It is important to rise above being a victim in such a situation and make a polite request to receive an explanation as to how the booking or queuing system works. The persons administrating the system will be hard put not to respond to a polite request to know how exactly the system works. This way, once you know how it works and they know that you know, it will be quite difficult for them to slip in extra patients and do favours to those who have not booked. If all the customers asked or if there was a request from the customers to have the process put on process map on the notice board or on the wall for all customers to be aware, it would curtail the underhand dealings.
Communication is also another area that is besieged with obvious lack and leaves a lot to be desired. What kind of communication does a patient deserve? What questions should you ask your doctor and when? Every patient needs to continuously ask questions. No question should be deemed too silly where your health or the health of your little one is concerned. Ask Ask Ask. We should take a cue from little children going through the ‘why’ phase who usually ask why? why? why? to every question, driving their parents insane as they think up reasonable and rational answers to the innocent questions. The same principle should apply. You should ask the doctor why why why until you have understood exactly what is happening, the reason for the choices being made and why a particular course of treatment or prescription is being recommended.
At no point should one be rushed into a procedure or coerced into doing anything. Seek to understand and be relentless in your quest for information. Conduct research and look up information from a wide variety of sources. Nowadays there’s tons of information online and there are many groups resourceful in providing answers. A word of caution though, is that one should not blindly follow lay advice from peers, but take the proffered advice and bounce it off your doctor for clarification. Do not hesitate to seek a second, third or even fourth opinion. It doesn’t hurt and will only serve to confirm the wisdom of your proposed choice or otherwise. Go with your gut feel. No matter how inexperienced or green you may be in the health matter you are dealing with, respect your instinct and your gut feel and ask for more information until you feel comfortable. You need not reach a point in your life where you say ‘I wish I listened’ Listen in advance. And should your doctor not be willing to answer your questions and provide you the information you seek, look for another doctor who will. Immediately.
And finally, have you ever wondered why there are some doctor’s waiting rooms completely full to capacity, where patients are willing to wait four or five hours to see the doctor? Where patients come ready to wait armed with their novels, tablets, toys to keep their children busy, office work to get on with, files and papers to read? Very busy and upward moving patients from all walks of life willing to wait out their turns patiently? What is it that sustains this phenomenon?
It is the doctor. You will find that once the patient is in the doctor’s room, their experience there is worth the long wait. Every patient needs to be listened to, to be heard and to feel like they are indeed important. That everything they say however idiotic it may sound, matters and is addressed with the concern it deserves. What is the critical factor that should make one choose one doctor over another?
A good doctor will handle each patient differently and address their unique and individual needs. A good doctor will remember what is important to you and seek to fulfill their promises. A good doctor will listen to complaints, however trivial they may seem and will take note of suggestions for improvement. Little things will be taken seriously. A good doctor will be available, respond to your telephone calls and texts, apologise should they be late and respect your time. A good doctor will take time to explain their course of action with regards to your treatment and ensure you are fully aware of your condition. They will be quick to let you know the repercussions, dangers and side effects of procedures and ensure you give informed consent. A good doctor will not feel that you are challenging them should you have new or contradictory information to what they have advised. A good doctor will not hesitate to let you know should they not have the answer to your question and need to consult their colleagues to provide you accurate information. A good doctor is your partner and friend who is as willing to learn from you as you are to learn from them. Does this describe your doctor?
Take a good look at the doctor in whose hands you are placing your life and the life of your little one and ask yourself this question – If this doctor made a mistake would they be willing to let me know? If the answer is yes, you are in good hands, if the answer is no, I invite you to take a good look around and find a doctor whom you trust wholeheartedly – in the literal sense – ‘with all your heart’