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Mad as Hell: By a Doctor, About Doctors


As most doctors know, an upset patient will tell 10 others. One way for a doctor to reduce patient annoyance is to make patients feel that he/she cares. This starts before the patient is seen, even while she is in the waiting and examination room.

This is what got me started. After waiting 30 minutes in the waiting room, a tall, lanky and reserved middle-aged woman takes me to the examination room near the end of the hall. She wastes no words, only confirming my surgery date and then she leaves. My room number was one. This suggestion turned out to be illusory.

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I read my , looked at and then answered my emails. I ran out of things to do. My watch said 4 p.m. The doctor was an hour late. Without anything to occupy me, I listened to my environment. The place was like a tomb. My room seemed isolated. I thought to myself, “Is there no one around except for me? Is there life in this clinic?”

In an attempt to find out, I went to the front desk. The receptionist seemed less than concerned. But, when I asked her how long it would be before I was seen, she said she would enquire. I returned to room one, but by then thought perhaps 13 would be a better description. No one came. This meant another hike back to the front desk. The receptionist had left. After some deliberation (because I didn’t' want to upset the system), I went through a closed door to the checkout counter thinking this was gutsy of me.

Of course, I hadn’t been seen, but what do you do when there is no one at the receptionist desk? The woman there was very nice. I could feel empathy. But, still she didn’t take any action. Was she powerless or did she just feel that way? Whatever the case, the message was clear: No one was interested in my welfare.

This made me reflect, “Is this the system/doctor I want to do my surgery, minor or otherwise?” In a second, I was out of there. And I was mad as hell.

“Plaintiff’s attorneys say that most people who want to sue are more angry than injured.”Medical Society of Virginia

The examination room is often chilly and uninviting. If no one comes in to check on the patient, uncertainty and anxiety can be created.

Fallout to a doctor

Later I learned that I wasn’t the first patient this doctor lost due to a long and lonely wait. The mother of a friend of mine (story below), had an even worse experience and it evidently was one of several. Her daughter, who also needed surgery, chose not to go to her mother’s doctor as a result. I cancelled my own procedure. The physician lost at least two potential patients and maybe more.

As most doctors know, an upset patient will tell 10 others. A happy patient shares the experience with far less often. This negativity doesn’t even include the fact that the doctor stands a higher chance of being sued as well.

What the physician can do

One way for a doctor to reduce patient annoyance (and thereby gain more patients and attenuate lawsuits) is to make patients feel that he/she cares. This starts before the patient is seen, even while she is in the waiting and examination room. Sadly, if this doesn’t go well, by the time the patient sees the doctor, he/she can already be mad as hell. Then, hostility has to be overcome, which is a waste of valuable doctor time. It is also unnecessarily distressing for the patient.

patient relations department

This is how the Medical Society of Virginia’s website sums up some constructive suggestions for doctors in its article The Top Ten Reasons - Physicians are Sued for Malpractice: “Make sure your staff understands they are your . The way staff treats patients on the phone and in person reflects favorably or unfavorably on the doctor. Don’t over-schedule. Apologize for delays; everyone’s time is valuable. Treat patients respectfully.”

This is why some practices are rewarding employees for patient satisfaction measured objectively. What a good idea!

My medical office

Thankfully, in my office years ago, I had Tara (really her name and a queen among nurses) who checked the patients for me plus gave me feedback and was like my right arm. In retrospect, she was a jewel and I knew it then, but better now.

It would seem that doctors who don’t have a nurse or assistant like Tara end up with occasional seething patients (I did too, but far fewer with Tara than without). This only makes his or her job harder and thereby should be an impetus to make a change, one that could well prevent lawsuits in the future, gain more patients and also make the doctor’s life better.

Martha’s story

This is a true story. Martha (name changed) is 80 years old and arrives for her 4 p.m. appointment slightly early for a follow up after her recent operation. At 6:30 p.m. she hasn’t been seen. The examination room is cold and lonely. No one has checked on her. She is worried. Everyone seems to have left the office.

Whether or not Martha was eventually seen, I don’t know. At this point, she was sufficiently distressed in telling her story that she didn’t finish it.

Some further reading:

When a Patient has a Gripe

Long Doctor Visit? Average Patient Wait Time Creeps Up to 21.3 Minutes

Waiting Room Tops Patient Complaints

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Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice
Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice