It’s been a long day in the OB/GYN office where I work. My job is to help patients who are not or under-insured to find ways to pay for their medical care (because it’s damn expensive to have a baby or get various female parts cut out of you when they act up). I also go through each day’s list of patients and note who owes money and why, so that the gals at the front desk can
shake them down ask politely for payment when they arrive for their appointment. I’m sure you can imagine how well that goes over.
But what I really do most days is answer the phone. My desk is adjacent to our two schedulers, so when the phones get busy – which is pretty much all the time – I’m expected to take calls to help them out.
If you call my clinic and I answer – I really want to help you – but please, help ME help YOU by following these simple suggestions.
1) Don’t be a Bitch. When I answer the phone and the first thing I hear is a strident voice, screeching at me because of any number of imagined slights – NONE of which I have anything to do with or could have prevented – it makes me
homicidal cranky. In fact, a call like that first thing in the morning can set the tone for the rest of the day – and then the poor saps who call after you have to be subjected to my less than stellar mood. I understand that you expected a call back from the nurse, or that your prescription did not make it to the pharmacy, or that you are in pain – and I can appreciate that is frustrating for you. But Bitch, I am not a nurse, nor can I call in a prescription, nor can I magically heal your pain. What I CAN do (after you scream at me for 5-10 minutes, tell me over and over again that “you people don’t know what you’re doing”, and treat me as if I am the scum of the earth) is to get frustrated myself – and then I can use my very limited power to delay your request as much as possible. I COULD make your message high priority – but I won’t, because you are a Bitch. I COULD transfer you directly to the nurse – but I won’t, because you are a Bitch. I COULD even get up and walk into the back and talk to the doctor to get the answer to your question – but guess what? I won’t – because you are a Bitch.
2) Understand that I can only offer you appointments that are available. When you call and want to be seen – my job is to offer you the first available appointment of that type. When I do so, please do not ask, “Is that the first available?” Do you really think I might respond, “Why no – I actually have an appointment available this very afternoon. I was just offering you the later appointment for giggles”? Similarly, if you tell me that you will take any appointment for any date, any time – because you just want to be seen as quickly as possible and I offer you a prime appointment – it would be nice if you would take it. Instead, I often hear, “Oh – I can’t do that one. What else do you have?” Then, when I offer another date/time, you respond, “No – I can’t do that one either.” After several rounds of this insanity, I finally say, “Why don’t you tell me when you CAN come?” Inevitably, the response will be, “I can come any OTHER time – just not THOSE times. What else do you have available?” And then the insanity ensues again – only ending when you say something like, “Are you sure that is your first available?” and I knock myself unconscious by bashing my head into the nearby wall.
3) If you are addicted to prescription pain medication, be aware that we have heard most of your stories before – from every other patient who is addicted to prescription pain medication. So, when you call and tell us you need a new narcotic prescription right away because 1) your purse was stolen, 2) your car was broken into, 3) your boyfriend/friend/family member stole your narcotics, 4) you accidentally dropped them in the sink or toilet, or 5) you lost the written prescription before you could fill it – we may be skeptical – especially if this is the fourth time your “purse has been stolen.” Also, while I give you props for trying to invent a totally original story, when you tell me that you transferred all of your pain meds into a tiny Benadryl bottle, which then fell out of a small hole in your purse while you were in the supermarket or that you took your pain pills out of the prescription bottle and put them in a bowl under your sink and the pipe burst, dissolving all of them, I will find that a bit hard to believe. PS – you may not be aware that the state and pharmacies work closely together and that the doctor can pull a narcotic report on you any time – which will tell him all of the different doctors who you have duped into prescribing you narcotics and the different pharmacies you have gone to fill your prescriptions, hoping they don’t catch on to the fact that you are getting a thirty-day supply of narcotics every seven days or so. Yeah – we can pretty much tell if you are an addict, so please don’t become abusive with me because our doctor opted not to give you more drugs.
4) I’m like Sergeant Joe Friday in that old TV show, Dragnet. I want “just the facts, ma’am.” When you call for an appointment or because you are having a medical issue, I just need a brief overview or the type of appointment needed. I’ve never been (and probably never will be) one of those people who love to chat on the phone as if there is all the time in the world. My goal is to take your message, schedule your appointment, or transfer your call to the nurse as quickly as I can – because there are usually a dozen other calls in the queue waiting to be answered. Unless I ask for more specifics, please do not tell me your entire medical history, as well of that of your mother and aunt. I do not need to know that you just moved here from Ohio or that you own a devilish Chihuahua. Also, I prefer not to hear you screaming at your children (right into my ear) or the shrieks of your child (do you put the phone right up to their mouths so I can fully appreciate every ear splitting decibel?) Whatever you do, do not tell me to “hold” and then proceed to put me on hold without waiting for me to respond. Remember how I said I had dozens of other calls waiting? I will not be there when finally decide it is convenient for you to continue the call and then you will be the one holding while I take those dozens of calls – because you’ll be at the back of the queue.
5) If you have a medical issue, address it sooner rather than later. Don’t call at 3:30pm telling us that you have been bleeding for 59 days and that you need to see a doctor right now because it is an emergency. If you have a yeast infection and wait to call until 4:45pm on a Friday, be prepared to suffer the burning and itching for the weekend and a good portion of Monday until someone can get back to you. If you need a refill on your birth control pills, why not call a couple of weeks before your last pack ends? Calling the day after you were supposed to start a new pack may be an emergency for you – but not so much for us. Also, if you ask for a call from a nurse, please have your phone turned on, the volume up, and stay close to it – otherwise, you may find yourself in a frustrating game of phone tag that never seems to end.
So, you might be saying to yourself about now, “Boy, that Jana is a humongously bossy bitch!” but perhaps you are asking, “So, what are the secrets to getting pleasant, efficient service when I call the doctor’s office?” It’s simple really:
1) Treat the people you talk to at the doctor’s office with respect (this is also good advice for most people you encounter in life).
2) If you are frustrated, it is perfectly fine to let us know – but it’s even nicer if you let us know YOU know that we are not the ones who caused the problem.
3) Briefly explain your situation and politely ask if we have any suggestions on how it can best be resolved. This engages us – plus, as we know you are just asking for help, not blaming or berating, we are more apt to go out of our way to try to help you.
4) Be prepared. If you are calling for an appointment, have your calendar in front of you so you can quickly cross check appointments offered with your availability. Know your phone number. Have a paper and pen ready if you need information or doctor’s names to research. Make sure you are in an area where you can talk about private health information and make notes (away from coworkers and not while driving your car). Know your insurance information and benefits. Have your prescription bottle handy or at least know the name of the prescription you want refilled.
5) Be patient when you are a patient. Remember that the doctor may be seeing 30+ patients and have messages from 50+ more that day. He also has orders to write, lab results to view, and paperwork to sign. His nurse will handle all of the messages that she can on her own – but she is rooming patients and assisting the doctor all day. They work as quickly as possible – but it takes time to get a call back. If you are quoted a response time, please give the staff at least that amount of time before calling again.
So there you have it – an insider’s view to how best to navigate contact with your doctor’s office. It’s top secret stuff and I might need to go off the grid and into hiding now that I’ve filled you in!
Do you work in customer service or the medical field? What kind of customers have you encountered? Have you been a patient and received incredibly bad service from your doctor’s office (sad to say, it happens sometimes).