Patients are Customers, Too – Part 2

First, Tower Diagnostics mailed me the mammogram film! So kudos to them. I guess HIPPA isn’t a factor in getting at least films….

Yesterday I had an echocardiogram at Harrison Cardiovascular Center (Tampa). The appointment was at 2. I knew I was in trouble when another patient said (LOUDLY) to the receptionist that she’d been waiting for over an hour.

After filling at the paperwork (btw, here’s a tip: record your medications on a spread sheet have them attach it to the paperwork. You’ll never remember how to spell the names of the drugs, the mgs, or be able to write them in the space allowed.)

So at 2:45 p.m., I asked how long it took to be seen for a 2 p.m. appointment.

They took me back to an exam room that wasn’t air conditioned and took my blood pressure, which was surprisingly normal. The a/c was broken because the doctor who owned the building, not affiliated with the practice, hadn’t gotten around to fixing it yet. Remember this is Tampa, Florida, late May. Hot. Humid. So the staff has been trying to work under these conditions for no telling how long and now you have cranky patients.

Another hour passes. I had another doctor appointment at 5…thought that would be enough time…silly me. So, about 3:30,  I stood out in the hallway where I was sure the patients in the waiting room as well as the staff could hear me and called the doctor to cancel the 5 telling him I was not going to make it because apparently the doctor’s office where I had the 2 p.m. for a test that was supposed to take about 45 minutes tops apparently couldn't schedule as well as he could. We had a nice chat about that. Loudly.

Here’s where things changed. The echocardiogram technician – she undoubtedly has a much higher title and credentials because she is running a clinical trial for women with breast cancer and heart disease – and this woman is SMART – got in my face and explained that people have heart attacks right there during the echocardigrams and other emergencies and scheduling can’t always be controlled.

Ok. Get that. “Did someone have a heart attack today?” I asked.

Well, no. There had been several “back door” patients.

Having worked at the Bond Clinic in Winter Haven (see 2 or 3 posts back), I know what a back door patient is. That is a patient who is a friend of the doctor. They bypass all the patients who make appointments 6 or 8 weeks in advance and sit in the waiting room for hours.

I told C (the echocardiogram clinician) that if someone had explained the wait time to me, I would have been happy to return to my office and come back at 4 or done something other than tap my shoes in a hot exam room or the waiting room (which did have a/c; don’t ask; I didn’t.)

And for all my clients who are starting to google “find new PR consultant,” there’s nothing structurally wrong with my heart. I will be here for a long, long time, taking care of all your PR/marketing needs and making the trains run at CompPharma. And, offering unsolicited personal advice, too. All this medical mess is a result of a drug allergy/reaction or maybe something gone terribly wrong at a drug lab. My MD is just being thorough.

Advice to Doctors' Practices:

Educate your front desks to:

  • Explain to patients that there is a longer-than-expected wait time.  My beloved neurologist Dr. Dunne (since retired from private practice did this back in the 1980s!)
  • Call patients ahead of time if at all possible. Hair salons do this; seems like you could.
  • If patients are already in the office, offer to let them leave and call them on their mobile phones (most people have them) about 15 minutes before they’ll be seen so they can run errands, go back to work, or go home and get a good book. There are a lot of things they can do with their time instead of sitting in your office flipping through magazines that have been handled by sick people.
  • As Gene Leedy (my step-father/world-famous architect) always said, “This g-d place is designed for the convenience of the help, not the customers…” Try trying turning that around. (I only use "step-father" to distinguish him from biological father Robert Baker King, now deceased, but a very funny Asst. District Attorney in Duval County/Jacksonville, Florida…wish he was still alive…oops, digression.)

Remember, patients are getting more savvy about their healthcare options. They know there are other doctors in town and once they start paying their own premiums, they will feel more ownership in their insurance. They will pick up that insurance card and go somewhere more customer-friendly. Trust me on that one.

I'm saying this for your benefit, not mine. I'll go to a different doctor.

What does this have to do with PR? Everything. The essence of public relations is “word of mouth.” The highest form of marketing is referral. People will share a bad story a lot faster than a good one.

And, if all that isn’t clear enough, this post is going to health care reporters in Tampa.