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Is Your Doctor Running Late? Check It Out Online

I just read a Wall Street Journal article about a new web-based service called MedWaitTime that allows patients to check if their doctor is running late before heading to the office for their appointment – kind of like you can check to see if your flight is late before heading to the airport.

Brilliant.

Nothing peeves me more than sitting in a doctor’s office reading 4-month-old tattered magazines on topics I care nothing about (saltwater fishing, seriously?), and not because the doctor had an emergency (when is the last time a dermatologist had to run out to save someone), but because the office staff routinely double books. I can’t count the number of times I walked out (my limit is 30 minutes unless I’m in agony) after giving the front office a targeted piece of my mind.

Since we’re on the topic of customer service as it applies to medicine, here are few other areas in which medical offices and their staffs could improve when it comes to customer service:

  • Get a website and put the paperwork you need from us online. Filling out forms with a pen is so 1990s. In fact, how about letting us book appointments online? My mammography center does this and it’s so much easier than calling, going through the 5-minute voice mail, then talking to some clerk who can’t spell your name right. 
  • Communicate via email. I know some doctors are doing this, and some insurance companies are even paying for it. But the vast majority do not. My own internist, whose office is completely computerized, won’t do it because, he says, he’s worried about “privacy issues.” Give me a break. there are plenty of encryption programs out there. He’s worried about getting paid for his time. Well you know what? I’m worried about getting paid for my time, too. And if I have to book an appointment to talk to you about the side effects from a drug, or express a concern over a new symptom and ask if I should come in, then I may have to find a new doctor. I have excellent health insurance; I am NOT the kind of patient you want to lose.
  • Share our test results with us. It’s my blood, my urine, my breasts. Why do I have to call and ask for the results most of the time? Don’t I have a right to know what my cholesterol is? See, if you did the email thing you could just scan in the results (or have them faxed directly into your computer) and then email them to us.
  • Find time to see us when we’re sick. If my son has a temperature of 102.5 and a sore throat, I really don’t want to go sit in the urgent care center for 3 hours because you can’t fit me in. You’re a doctor, for goodness sake; keep some slots open for, well, sick people. And if you decide to cut back to part time (as my kids’ doctor recently did) tell us so we can find another, full-time doctor; allow your partner to see us; or hire a temporary doctor.
  • Computerize your office. My son’s doctor picked upon the fact that he needed a tetanus, DPT, and rubella booster even though we were seeing her for a completely different reason because a program in her computer alerted her to the need. Doctors are always complaining that they have to deal with too much paperwork and see too many patients to make a living, but a surprisingly small number of them take advantage of technology to make their jobs–and patient care–better.
  • Respect our privacy. If I’m concerned that my son is depressed, I may not want to share that information with the clerk who answers the phone; I want to talk to you about it. Neither do I want the front desk administrator to loudly ask me when I’d like to book my colonoscopy as I’m checking out. 

How do you think medical professionals could improve their customer service?

*This blog post was originally published at A Medical Writer's Musings on Medicine, Health Care, and the Writing Life*


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2 Responses to “Is Your Doctor Running Late? Check It Out Online”

  1. Even better than an online service, have the medical office staff tweet patients to tell them whether to come ten minutes early or ten minutes late, based on how the schedule is running.

    I do think the medical field has a lot to learn about customer service. I wrote “50 Customer Service Ideas to Treat Your Patients to Friendly, Easy and Unexpected Service” here: http://bit.ly/cbdyHw

    Best wishes,

    Mary Pat Whaley

  2. Spot on article. Definitely stuff I should keep up on when I get into practice.

    I, myself, would have a concern about emailing patients. It could be a shared account or something that could potentially break confidentiality. Though it would be something that the doctor could just print out and attach to the file. Easy for both sides.

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