Customer Service: Have Enough, But Not Too Much

One of my docs was telling us about a patient’s experience at another practice. Apparently, the parent was at her wits end with her crying baby. She called the  on call doctor to ask for advice and the doctor told the patient, “your baby has colic’s; turn on the vacuum and stop calling.” It turned out the baby had some gastric condition (not colic’s) and needed treatment. The patient ended up leaving the practice and ended up at ours.

I do not know what the exact circumstances were. Sometimes patients can tell a story that completely justifies their actions. So in the absence of the complete story, I am not going to rag on the rude doc (for lack of a better term).

But the fact is we hear stories like this all the time. I’ve encountered people that have been so rude, I actually thought I was on one of those prank shows where the objective is to see how long the customer goes before blowing his lid. No cameras tho’. No “You Got Punk’d!” They were legitimately rude.
I think we – and when I say we, I mean the provider side of health care – can all agree that we do a poor job (generalizing of course) with customer service. I mean let’s face it, very few of us could go up against a or even a Southwest Airlines (and they are an airline for goodness sake).

Why is that? Why aren’t we better?

I think one of the reasons we have poor customer service is because we are overwhelmed. There are so many patients, and so few of us, that if we are rude to people and they leave, it’s almost a blessing because that is one less patient to worry about.

But it wasn’t always like this. Think back to when the practice was brand new. Think back when you got your first job after residency in a private practice. How did you view the parent then? As a nuance or as an opportunity to help?

The interesting thing is that when practices are just starting, they pull out all the stops for patients. This is also true when numbers are down. I’m sure it happens to the best of us.

It seems to me that the challenge is, have enough patients to keep growing, but not enough where we get too overwhelmed.

What say you?

4 thoughts on “Customer Service: Have Enough, But Not Too Much”

  1. I’ve often (not completely jokingly) thought that caring for babies of first-time parents (or, rather, caring for the parents) should be a pediatric subspecialty. I’m usually a low-maintenance patient, but had an endless barrage of questions and concerns about my colicky first-born. Yeah, we called way more than was probably reasonable. I recently found one of my laundry lists of questions on a scrap of paper from 3 years ago and was almost doubled over laughing. But just one sincere response from the staff or a little empathy for being overwhelmed and scared (even if it was over nothing) could have been extremely reassuring. We ultimately left that practice when my son was 6 months old–20% for shaky medical advice, 80% for cold customer service.

    1. It is really hard to manage an overly anxious parent. We try our best, but sometimes it is a challenge.

      It is one thing to be concerned, worried or scared, but it is another to use the after hours office line as a hot-line.

      Thank you for the comments Deb.


      1. In a perfect world, that kind of pattern might trigger a phone call from the ped to mom’s OB (even if just to see if she’s always like that, given it’s a new relationship)–considering mom has many more encounters with kid’s doc than her own. Then perhaps the OB could call mom to check in. Realize few docs have time to go above and beyond for other people’s patients like this, but some kind of system might keep subtler cases of PPD from falling through the cracks. Or does something similar already exist?

        Looking back at my own “white knuckled” parenting days, I don’t think the baby was ever at risk (which would have been medically addressed, one would hope), but those months were probably a lot harder than they had to be.

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