Let's Play a Little Game…

Every time I go to a physician’s office, I like to play a little game. I call it: “If I did this, I’d lose patients”. I try to count all of the things they do (or don’t do) that would cost me patients if I did them in my office. I’m sure you’ve done the same.
We could start with the huge glass window found in every medical office. The one that separates the patients from the front desk and make that horrible noise when moved. George Orwell couldn’t have done a better job of separating the bourgeois and proletariat. It makes it clear that we shouldn’t bother the front desk, who incidentally couldn’t care less about the patients except when they ask for the insurance card, ID and copay without even looking us in the eye. What would we tell our team members if they acted that way?
The waiting room (there is no way I’m calling it a reception area) is spartan with no TV (or worse yet, like my wife’s doctor, 2 TV’s with “dueling programming”), no games, not even a magazine. Where is the highlights magazine of my youth. I’d kill for that part where 10 things are wrong in the picture while waiting in this borings of places. Maybe there’s a dusty plastic plant in the corner, and the interior decorator looks like they worked for IBM in the 70’s with their creativity. The hum of the fluorescent lights has drawn my attention. I’ve decided I’m keeping their pen even if I’m not supposed to.
The assistant stands at the door, calling your name like an executioner coming for a condemned man, without ever looking at you and never saying “hi”, while telling you where to go. Maybe you got lucky with a “how’s your day going” comment, but it comes out like someone trying to get through a bad speed dating session or an IRS auditor starting the examination. She tells you where to sit and what to do and generally treats you with the compassion and kindness of a McDonalds employee taking your order.
If you’re lucky, you’re not forced to sit on the paper strip and allowed a chair. I always go for the chair if she doesn’t say anything, but like my dog trying to get away through the open door, my dreams are dashed as they often corral me back onto the crinkly paper that I’m sure they buy in bulk from the butcher. Can’t we just sit eye to eye and just chat? Oh, and could you at least look at me when you ask me about any recent weight gain instead of looking at your computer only? I mean, I worked hard for those pounds and you should see the joy on my face as I tell you about it.
The room is usually adorned not with anything a normal person would want to see but rather with posters or models that allow me to reacquaint myself with the anatomy of the ear, eye, knee or shoulder. I’m sure that with the amount of time I’ve often been left alone, I could pass a specialty board exam about the anatomy of the inner ear.
It goes on and on and I keep asking “how can all doctors get away with this level of customer service?” If I were to do this, I’d be out of business. I’m sure that the doctor is a nice person and cares about the patients, but the bigger question is how did the dental and medical models get so far apart? And it doesn’t stop with just the customer service or decorations.
Look at how differently we practice? Let’s take outcomes as a simple example. Let’s say you go to the orthopedist for an ACL repair. You sit with the doctor and he explains the surgery, what you should expect and what your recovery will be like. You go through the surgery, and as you’re recovering, the doctor tells you how well the surgery went. Everything went exactly as planned. You go through the rehab and do everything you’re supposed to. 6 months later, your knee still hurts a bit while you walk and there’s limited flexibility and you can’t play basketball anymore. You return to the doctor and he says:”Everything looks fine. The surgery was a success. The ACL looks great and it’s just that you’ve developed some stiffness. It’s just something you may have to live with.”
You see, the medical model has done something that we, in the dental community have never been able to pull off; They’re able to separate the outcome from “success”. The biologic outcome is different than the treatment outcome. Can you imagine if you told a patient:”Your bite looks awesome and the smile is perfect. I know that the clicking in the jaw has increased and you can only open half way, but it’s just something you’re going o have to get used to.” Medicine has gotten really good at having physicians not take things too personal and owning the problem. “Sorry, but there’s nothing else I can do for you” and here we are as orthodontists searching our Facebook groups for 3 days looking for an answer for our 9 year old patient who has canker sores that bothers him or how to give post operative instructions in a way that our patients will really care.
Could you imagine getting a special gift or goodie bag when you leave your physician? Or a follow up note thanking you for choosing the practice? Yes, I’m sure it happens somewhere, but it’s generally the exception, not the rule.
The point is that we’ve chosen to raise the bar in our profession and give our patients exceptional experiences. We market and try to stand out based on the “patient experience”. I know that going the way of the medical model is not the right thing to do and I’m proud of the way we all treat our patients like human beings deserved of kindness, respect and a little entertainment from time time. Yes, I think we often make our patients’ problems our problems, but I’d much rather belong to a profession that has people talking (and writing) about how well we treat them rather than the comical aspects of the poor customer service.
So, the next time you go to the doctor, take a look around and note the things you see and go back and make your practice and patient experiences better. Let’s be proud of the way we’ve chosen to treat our patients and drive ourselves a little bananas in the process.
Wishing you an amazing day,
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