I have a list of things I wish my doctor would do but often I’m more concerned about impressing them. If you’re like me, you worry at least on some level about what people think of you, and your primary care provider or specialist is probably near the top of the list of people you want to like you. Or if you’re not like me, you at least don’t want your care provider to dislike you.
Now, is this rational? Probably not. But when I was having my daughter, you can bet your last paycheck that I was schmoozing with the nurses and trying to be as close to a perfect patient as I could possibly be. Sure, I asked questions and showed I was knowledgeable. I knew what I wished my doctor would do, but I also made sure I respectfully deferred. Why? Because I wanted them to like me. And, I thought I would get better care if they liked me! Better care meant a healthier delivery for me and my brand-new addition to the planet. Doesn’t everyone think that way? Isn’t that how it works?
Come to find out, most people DON’T think like I do. And, I don’t actually recommend thinking like me, because it is neurotic and exhausting. But the purpose of this blog post is to flip this strange preoccupation with being liked on its head. What if doctors cared about us liking them? What would they do?
Full disclosure: I am what one might consider a health care insider. I have worked in the Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) world for years and absolutely love operations. I’ve heard what patients complain about and what they appreciate. So this isn’t just coming from me. Nevertheless, I have plenty of my own healthcare experiences that didn’t go as well they could have.
For example, last year I was having some gastrointestinal (GI) issues. I scheduled an appointment, ran through what I had tried so far, and my GI doctor gave me a stepwise plan. First, get labs. Then, depending on what labs say, she said I could come back in to decide on treatment or more tests. Well, I went and got my labs done, but it took a couple of months for me to get there. Then, when the results came in, I got a call from her office saying, “Everything looks normal.” No asking me to come back in. No letting me know that she was going to order more tests. Nothing. I never did anything else to resolve my issue, even though it still bugs me. It’s just too much of a hassle to re-initiate the process with that office. How much more effective could it have been if the nurse who called me had said, “Based on your care plan, the doctor recommends this medicine. She ordered it and you can pick it up at your pharmacy. Do you have any questions?”
When I reflect on this experience, there’s a handful of things that could have been done better to ensure that I got the care that I needed. And, this is just one experience out of many that has shaped my wishlist of things I wish my doctors would do.
1. Remind me of my visit ahead of time.
This goes without saying. Life is busy. Sometimes my calendar on my phone gets wonky. What I wish my doctor would do is give me a call or send me a text to remind me of an upcoming appointment. What would be even better is if you remind me of what I’m supposed to bring with me to make our visit as productive as possible.
2. Make sure I know how much I’m going to have to pay.
I have insurance, so I’m pretty sure I know my co-pay in advance. But people without insurance who pay on a sliding fee scale want to know how much they should expect to pay. If you know it, tell them! No one likes a financial surprise.
3. Have good WIFI and post the password prominently. Put good stuff on the TV to educate me. Make it fun to be at your office!
Most people have smartphones these days. It doesn’t matter where I am—a restaurant, coffee shop, airport, or doctor’s office. I prefer not to use my data, and I don’t want to have to you to ask for the password. What I wish my doctor would do is post the WIFI password prominently in the office so I can easily hop online while I’m waiting.
I know I just said I want a WIFI password so I can get deep into my own little phone world, but on the flip side, give me an opportunity to connect with the other folks waiting in the reception area. Many, many people used to report to me in my behavioral health consultant days how lonely and disconnected they feel from their community. If you’re pretty social like me, having some little fact from the TV or an interesting magazine can give me an excuse to lean over to the person a few chairs down to comment and potentially start up a conversation. Have a Keurig or water cooler? Even better!
Lastly, those of us with kids appreciate when you have some good toys or books! Even if you aren’t a pediatrician’s office, this matters to us because our tiny humans still come with us to our appointments.
Being at the doctor’s office doesn’t have to be a drag. Make it comfortable and I will feel loyal to you and your office.
4. Respect my time
If you’re running behind, what I wish my doctor would do is let me know. Don’t assume this is the only place I have to be today. I know, no one likes to be the bearer of bad news. Your front office reception staff works really hard and has to deal with a lot. It’s easier to say nothing and hope I have no sense of time and can just wait forever. But I am much less likely to be salty with you if you tell me what to expect. “Ms. McKinley, the nurse practitioner is running a few minutes behind because we had a lot of sick calls this morning and she didn’t want patients to go to urgent care,” or “the electronic health record has been really slow,” or “the weather is making everyone late today.”
Whatever the reason is, I wish you would just let me know. “It’s likely to be another twenty minutes. Can you wait? Can I bring you some water?” I’ll appreciate the honesty and effort, and I’ll feel respected. Then, I can decide if I want to wait or not. And you (via your front office staff) have put a deposit in our relationship bank account instead of a withdrawal.