A Tale of Two Pediatrics Practices

The use of patient-friendly practice management technology cannot make up for a poorly run pediatric practice.

As I read the news, I saw the usual: how the celebration of the iPhone’s availability beyond AT&T is starting to fizzle but that enterprise-level excitement over Apple products in general hasn’t; how developers are embracing Android but that apps are selling at what Google feels is a less-than-stellar rate.

I considered writing about these things, and then I changed my mind.

Instead, I’m going to address how not to run a business in this age of lightning-fast communications. Why? Because as a society, we’re on the cusp of addressing issues that are a drag on the medical system. And because I suspect that pediatricians will increasingly take heat for it, and here’s the reason: a parent scorned is about the quickest way to alienate current and prospective clientele.

Take Meredith Lopez, for example. Ms. Lopez is a freelance writer and mother who writes for outlets such as Huffington Post, Momacillin, and Moms Who Need Wine. In other words, Ms. Lopez is — both professionally and personally – all about being a mother and communicating with a community of like-minded peers.

Which brings me to Ms. Lopez’s very public complaint regarding her relationship with her son’s pediatrician. If you read her post, “An Open Letter to Pediatricians,” you’ll see that she feels caught between the proverbial rock (her relationship with her son’s medical home) and a hard place (seeing to her son’s medical needs).

Ms. Lopez wants desperately to work with a trusted source of medical care for her child, but she clearly feels that she can’t. Previous experience tells her that she doesn’t have access to the medical office when she needs it. Perhaps more importantly, her tale illustrates that her pediatrician isn’t operating as her partner in the care of her child.

I don’t know Ms. Lopez personally, so I can’t comment on her objectivity. Still, I understand her complaint. I recently tried for seven straight hours, starting at 9:00AM, to make an appointment by telephone with a pediatrician at a large medical conglomerate which shall remain nameless (okay -- let’s just say the name rhymes with “wiser”). The line was busy each time I called and I didn’t even have an option to leave a message.

I’m new to this insurance program, and there is one number listed for my area. I could make an appointment online if I wanted to wait for at least two weeks to see the doctor. If I wanted to see someone that day, I clearly needed to take my daughter to another resource and pay out of pocket.

When I need an appointment, I’ll wait a day or two to see the doctor. But when the appointment is for my child, I echo Ms. Lopez’s sentiments regarding the willingness to pony up outside of the medical home to get the care my child needs.

My poor opinion of this medical group is exacerbated by the fact that I’ve experienced a well-run pediatric office — one with a phone system that puts calls in a cue, offers the ability to speak with a nurse 24 hours a day/7 days a week if parents are concerned about a child’s condition, and provides the option of using a website or a telephone number for prescription refills and referrals.

What I just described is an office that leverages very basic technology to meet the needs of its patients. The former group also uses technology, but it is cumbersome and doesn’t produce a timely response. In other words, the former group is inadvertently in the business of packing the waiting rooms of local ERs and Minute Clinics.

The Pediatric, Inc. blog almost constantly advocates the position of treating pediatric practice as a competitive business, and given the multiple pressures facing the general practitioner today, I don’t think it can be ignored.