Customer Service 101 for the Healthcare Provider

As a bonafide member of the “terminally ill” club, I have seen my fair share of doctors, nurses, administrative staff and the like and I can say that the vast majority of my interactions have been good, in fact more than just good, perhaps very good, some even excellent. But there are a few unsavory ones that are engrained in my mind – forever!

 As with all “customer service” it is generally only the negative that gets pointed out and for that, I apologize as this is going to be one of those times. Before I begin expressing my thoughts and ideas as to how providers can improve their customer service, let me just say, I love my current team of doctors, nurses and admins. They keep me happy, healthy and above all treat me with respect and courtesy and never make me feel like an idiot for having the strange anomalies that have seemed to plague me through my journey.

 Now here comes the rest of the story…

 Matters of Time

 My time is valuable. I have not studied medicine and I do not have letters behind my name, but my time, as with my life, matters. When you schedule me for an appointment I may not always be exactly punctual. I try, but sometimes I fail. I am hopeful you will forgive me as I will you when occasionally things happen that can make us all run late – normal traffic snags, the barista taking a little extra time to add the whip to the mocha, or the diarrhea caused by medication that just didn’t subside in a timely manner. So I understand if you are running a few minutes late; we all do. But three hours late when you are simply in clinic without crisis, is not okay by anyone’s standard. Enough said here.

 Another issue I have with time is the amount you don’t spend with me. This one I can lay squarely on the doctors. Nurses seem to have all the time in the world to give each and every patient; whether they do or not, it is surely perceived that way. And we patients feel like a million bucks because of it.

 As for you doctors – you certainly deserve some grace as it goes without saying you have more patients to see than time to give. And with the corporate structure of our modern medicine machines requiring you to slip in and out without barely being noticed by the patient; everyone can understand you have time constraints that most do not, but it still isn’t okay. I am dying, literally. No, my time is no imminent but it is not in the too distant future - could you please at least pretend that I am not a bother, or in the way of you getting to your next appointment? A little compassion in regard to the value of my time would go a long way.

 Take a deep breath before you come in to the exam room, find your smile and sit down with me. It’s okay to tell me in advance you only have 15 minutes to give me, I will adjust my questions and concerns accordingly. But when you see me for an average (I actually did the math on this when I was being treated at a huge, world-renowned facility) of three minutes and still rush through my appointment and then bill my insurance for the entire length of the scheduled visit – I’m going to get a little surly.

 Health anomalies – All aboard the crazy train!

 Another bone of contention, and this one is a biggie – I am sick, not nuts! You ask me every single time I see you, “What’s going on?” I appreciate that and I want you to know what is going on with my health so I tell you about all the weird things happening to my body; the dizzy spells, the bowel movement issues, the nausea, the pain in my joints, the vision changes, the shallowness of my breathing, the inability to sleep, the fatigue and so on. However, after telling you about the idiosyncrasies of my health your aloof behavior leads me to feel you either (a) don’t care; or (b) are convinced I am making all this up.

 I have learned through my numerous ER visits, hospital admissions and urgent clinic appointments that my mystery fevers, weird pains, severe nausea, weakness, fatigue, diarrhea, night sweats and “I just don’t feel right” complaints may seem unusual, not indicated as normal side effects of my mediation and treatment, over-blown or even fabricated to you, but for me, they are REAL.

 I do get fevers out of the blue with nothing else wrong with me and am instructed “per protocol” to emergently seek care for anything over 100.4 degrees. So, when I show up in your emergency room or clinic, please don’t look at me cross-eyed and state, “Tell me again why you are here?”

 My pain is intense, chronic in some places and sporadic in others and often debilitating. This can last for minutes, hours, days, weeks or months – I have had it all. Surely the right answer to my pain problems however, is not always, “I don’t know what is wrong with you but I can give you narcotics…”

 Really?! I don’t want to be doped up and stopped up (constipation from OxyContin - although sometimes constipation seems like it might be a nice relief from chronic diarrhea). I already have enough unpleasant issues.

 And as for the diarrhea – just because I can’t poop in a hat (the un-clinical term for the device used to collect a stool sample) does not mean that I haven’t had chronic diarrhea every morning for the past several months! My bowels may just be shy at that moment.

 Then there is the catch all, “I just don’t feel right.” This one actually does make me think I am half nuts sometimes. I can’t explain it, have yet to find the words to articulate how sometimes I get a sense I am dying. I sort of feel like my body is literally slowing down and not in a feeling my Zen sort of way, more like a I’m running out of energy to keep going kind of way. These feelings of becoming disconnected with my body are actually quite calming. They don’t scare me but they seem to terrify others when I tell them, all except the doctors – they just look at me like, “Give me something more concrete to work with.” Even if you do think I’m losing it, I would appreciate if you would maybe just pretend you aren’t considering calling the men with the straight jackets.

 Fake it till you make it - when you don’t have a clue about my disease

 As a slightly over middle-aged female living with a male, “generally over 65” type of disease that is only diagnosed a few thousand times per year globally, I have become used to the blank stares when I state the name of my condition. Everyone has heard of the word, “lymphoma” as is the last word of my disease, but it’s the first two words that generally hang them up, “mantle cell.”

 I have been told, “I read about it once in a text book,” and “I am not too familiar with it….” which is generally code for, “I have absolutely no idea what it is.”

 This used to unnerve me before I became a seasoned patient. Now I generally help out the doctors and nurses with their awkwardness by prefacing my disease’s name with, “It’s okay if you don’t know what it is.” With that I usually hear, “Oh, good, because I don’t!” (laughing).

 I would rather you be honest with me than pretend to understand what I have, what my treatment is and what I am dealing with; at least this way I get more of an open, honest interaction. Trust me, I can tell if you don’t know much if anything about my disease.

  Tips for the providers:

 Again, I am so grateful for my caregivers and their staff – I feel like I am treated with kid gloves; but I have experienced the above and it is not a great position to be in.

We need you, we appreciate you, we often times form lasting, meaningful relationships with you as our caregivers, but please, please, please keep in mind, as with any other service providing industry, we expect good service.

-       Please try to be reasonably on time

 -       Remember the adage, “you get what you pay for?” I pay a lot for you, please give me my due time

 -       Be present – not just your person but your focus.

 -       Please put on your, “you and your time matters to me” look when you see me

 -       Talk to me and LISTEN to what I say. I really do know my body better than anyone.

 -       Admit you don’t know what I am going through – really, we know you are human, in fact, we like and admire you better when you show that to us.