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Curing Customer Service at the Doctor's Office

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I love my children's pediatrician. He's great not only with the kids, but also with the parents. Although he's got to be under enormous pressure, he never makes direct conversations feel rushed.


He appears to be genuinely glad to answer any and all questions the parents have, and he doesn't make it seem as if he's heard the same question a million times, as he probably has. Interacting with him directly is always (dare I say it?) a fun experience.
I just hate going to see him.
I won't necessarily lay the blame squarely on his shoulders. I'm sure he does the best he can. It's just that on certain days and at certain times, I get to see him for only 15 minutes of the 2 hours I'm there. Spending that time trying to comfort an increasingly fussy baby for twice as long as I expected to be there is nearly enough to make me want to actively seek a new doctor.
The problem is, I haven't met a doctor yet who has so little to do that he can actually keep his appointment times consistently. At least not for the amount I'm willing to pay. Thus, in my case, changing pediatricians won't really solve the problem. It would simply change the location that problem occurred. By changing, I would give up the certainty of having a good pediatrician for a hope that defies all reason and experience .... that is .... that the waiting time situation will change by switching doctors.
Bearing all that in mind, what can be done? It seems that any of the available choices are, in one way or another, prohibitive. One option results in a continued waste of time and discomfort, and the other introduces uncertainty in the quality of care I can expect my children to receive with no corresponding benefit to compensate for that uncertainty.
Assuming similar prices, levels of care, and "bedside manner," a better waiting room experience might tip the scales with many patients. Improvements I'd look for could be pretty simple, but it means expanding the office's repertoire beyond just magazines and a single TV playing a single kids' movie over and over again.

  1. Office staff should provide an explanation to the patient when once they are able to anticipate a delay over, say, fifteen minutes.
  2. Make refreshments available for the wait.
  3. Waive the copayment fee (whatever it is) when the wait is longer than 30 minutes.
  4. Provide interesting content that may be relevant to the visit. There are only so much one can get out of reading the posters over and over again when the patient is stuck waiting for anything more than 15 minutes.

Although it seems the supply available doctors seems to barely, if at all, meet the demands of patients, the medical care industry as a whole has an incredible P.R. problem that is about to get worse due to the upcoming release of "Sicko," a movie created by Michael Moore, who is no stranger to .... fairly or unfairly .... drumming up controversy with and animosity toward his intended targets.
If there was ever an incentive to improve their patients' perception of their health care providers, this is it. Although probably too late to dampen the immediate impact of "Sicko," it's never too late to pay closer attention to the comfort and requirements of a company's customers, regardless of the industry in question.


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As the youngest member of his family, Cam Beck decided to put college on hold long enough to join his brothers and father in the Marine Corps. After training as a basic rifleman and an electronics technician, Cam was released from active duty in 1993 and has been working in the civilian workforce ever since - never holding fewer than two jobs and/or businesses at once for long. While taming his learned nomadic tendencies, he finally finished undergraduate school in 2004.

Paying homage to his military roots, Cam cut his teeth on Internet marketing with the launch of OO-RAH.com in 1997, hoping to capture and explain the essence of what makes the Marine Corps such a tight-knit organization. It was through this experience of serving those he admired that Cam came to develop his philosophy for good business:

  1. In order to deliver effective customer service, you must first become a servant to your customers.
  2. To become an effective servant to your customers, you must first admire and respect them.
  3. Respect for others requires you put their needs before your own.
  4. Every experience is a learning opportunity.


These maxims have served as the basis for Cam’s philosophy of user-centered design as an experience planner for Click Here, Inc., where Cam focuses on the disciplines of information architecture, usability, and strategy for Click Here’s clients.

Cam lives in Grand Prairie, Texas with his family and dogs. When he’s not changing diapers, cleaning up other messes, blogging, or dreaming, he’s volunteering for and participating in his son’s Boy Scout troop.

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  • by Glenn (Customer Service Experience) Ross Fri May 25, 2007 via blog

    I'll bet 98% of patients don't complain about long wait times. the physician, bouncing from exam room to exam room is in an entirely different universe and usually has no idea what life is like in the waiting room. I can excuse emergencies, but when the doctor's patients have to wait ever single time, then it needs to be addressed. The copay idea is great. What if the patient called before leaving their home or office and asked the receptionist what the wait time was? The office would have to make some changes such as being willing to change the appointment by however much the doctor was running late. This would probably be a favor for the doctor who wouldn't feel as rushed.

  • by David Reich Fri May 25, 2007 via blog

    Cam, I agree that the medical profession has a real p.r. problem, and many doctors make it worse by their insensitive treatment of their customers. My wife always has a ridiculous wait to see her ob/gyn. A recent mammogram showed a possible abnormality and the doctor, wanting to be thorough, ordered a sonogram to check more closely. So far, fine. But here's the problem -- the doctor didn't give my wife this news. It was the doctor's secretary, who told my wife it's probably nothing, but Dr. Kanganis (in Bronxville NY) wants to be certain. Understandably, my wife was scared by this news and wanted to talk with the doctor. She called and left several messages over the course of a week, with no callbacks from Dr. Kanganis. Finally, she got through to the secretary, who told my wife, except for emergencies, we only make calls to patients on Tuesdays and Thursdays (or something like that). And even then, the secreatry makes the calls, not the Great Doctor. Polly Kanganis may be a fantastic ob/gyn, but I'm pushing my wife to make a change as soon as she can. And when she does, she's got to tell the doctor why she's switching. Doctors must have feedback from patients not intimidated to let them know when they're behaving badly.

  • by Klettergriffe onlineshop Mon May 28, 2007 via blog

    Cool, that you have customer service at the doctor's office, in Germany we pay 10 Euro for Entrance and then we wait hours. See you, Heiko :-)

  • by Paul Barsch Tue May 29, 2007 via blog

    Having worked in the healthcare industry, I cannot defend nor even ably respond to how to fix the mess (at least . What I do know, is that if you think wait times and customer service aren't a priority now, just wait til/if we move to "universal healthcare". You ain't seen nothing yet!

  • by Elaine Fogel Tue May 29, 2007 via blog

    This topic is one of my favorites, having moved from Canada'a universal health care system to the U.S. First, let me say to you, David, that I think the doctor's protocol of returning calls ONLY two days a week is shameful. This is a prime example of horrible customer service. We're not talking about plumbing services here - it's about people's health and emotional well-being. As for a bad PR problem, I believe this extends way past that. It's understandable that doctors will try their best to accommodate emergencies and last-minute sick patients, but that should be accounted for when the office staff make the appointment schedule. What is unacceptable is that many doctors are either oblivious or uncaring about the fact that patients are waiting for long periods of time. That implies that their time is more valuable than ours. I think some of it is attributable to greed and some with the need to meet overhead costs. Docs have many expenses, especially with malpractice insurance.If they can ram as many patients into a day as they can, that means more money generated for the practice. On the other hand, In Canada, where there's a salary ceiling, some doctors I saw had long wait times and others did not. I never had to wait longer than 5-10 minutes to see my GP. Somehow, he managed to make a decent living without making us feel like cattle. Yet the opthamologist's visit was an ordeal, often a 90-minute experience from entrance to exit.

  • by Cam Beck Tue May 29, 2007 via blog

    Paul - My first draft dealt with the universal consequences of forbidding price to fluctuate in a way that affected demand, like how insurance does to a degree, and in a way universal health care will do to the nth degree. Without a doubt, that is part of the problem. I chose to take all of that out, for better or for worse, so that I could make the simple point that, whatever the cause is, even if there is no immediate financial incentive for doctors' offices to improve their quality of customer service (my spot would be filled in a second if I left this doctor), there is still a powerful reason to do so. The only consequence today's politicians have to deal with is their reelection. By the time universal health care crumbles under its own weight, today's politicians will be long gone, having already procured a very esteemed living for themselves off of the public dollar while everyone else celebrated them for their noble intentions without respect to their short-sightedness.

  • by Colin McKay Tue May 29, 2007 via blog

    What about the other side of the relationship? My pediatrician makes it clear that the parents are responsible for arriving on time and prepared for their appointment: if you are late, you lose your spot in line and have to wait. He also makes it very clear that you should be upfront about how many questions and complaints you want to discuss with him: appointments are for 15 minutes unless arranged in advance. That's generally enough time for a consult and an evaluation of one problem. The advantage to this system? Every time we have called with an emergency, he has been able to see us within two hours. Sometimes, the client is wrong. Even if they have an earache and green poopie.

  • by Lawrence Kerr Tue Jun 5, 2007 via blog

    I was just in a waiting room with my pregnant wife for what seemed like forever. While we waited, drug company reps were coming into the waiting room and were rushed right in to meet with....the doctor! Yes, the doctor was scheduling HER business on OUR time. I called her on it and she got mad at me!!

  • by Cam Beck Tue Jun 5, 2007 via blog

    Lawrence - I don't think I can add anything to what you said... but congrats on the pregnancy! :)

  • by Alex Mills Wed Sep 19, 2007 via blog

    The poor customer service extends beyond the rude wait times. The office staff routinely demand social security numbers and copies of drivers licenses, neither of which are needed for the service they provide or for insurance billing. This personal information is gathered only in the event they need to turn your account over to a collection agent. Meanwhile, should one of the $10/hour billing clerks turn out to be a criminal, the doctors files are gold mines for identity thieves. When I politely withhold this sort of personal information, the office clerk inevitably rolls her eyes and seeks assistance from a supervisor to deal with my insubordination.

  • by Kris D. Thu May 8, 2008 via blog

    You can blame the health insurance companies for most of the problems described here. The crippling load of paperwork and the amount of malpractice insurance required for a doctor to maintain a practice means that they have a choice of either raising their rates exorbitantly to cover costs or scheduling as many patients as they can during office hours. They also can't necessarily pay top dollar for administrative staff if they want to keep fees from going over the top. And for those who don't know, the days a doctor is not in the office, s/he is usually making hospital rounds, in surgery, attending as part of a hospital staff, on call covering for another doctor, or holding office hours in another location to serve another population. They don't play nearly as much golf as you think! I hate waiting, too--so I get there early. Some doctors are good about keeping the wait short; others aren't. When I see a doctor, I'd rather have their attention for at least 15 minutes rather than 5, so for the physicians who provide that, I'm willing to wait. Dr. Kanganis is one of the best doctors I've seen--and I've been through many gynos, in Manhattan and elsewhere. She treats patients like whole human beings, not body parts. About messages: a doctor doesn't always get messages immediately--it depends on the answering service or administrative staff. And as anyone in the business world knows, sometimes that's a crapshoot. If a doctor knows there's no emergency, s/he won't call back right away. S/he may be dealing with real emergencies, working in the O.R., delivering babies, etc. You can be assured that if there were a suspected malignancy in the mammogram, Kanganis would've been on the case instantly. If the AMA would take back medicine from the insurance companies, we'd all get better health care. Think back 20 years or so--we weren't waiting forever to see a doctor, we weren't rushed in and out, and you could actually get a doctor on the phone. Now they barely have time to breathe. You'd be surprised how many of them don't even get to eat lunch. Instead of bitching at doctors (except for those who truly deserve it), start agitating for health care reform. You can find plenty of ways to do that online. And if you have an iPhone, you can even do it while you're waiting in the doctor's office.

  • by Elizabeth Hiles Tue Sep 9, 2008 via blog

    Waiving co-payments is not an option for doctors. To waive a co-pay is considered insurance fraud in most states, the only legal way I know of doing it is to get an individual consideration contract on a patient stating they can't afford the co-pay. Waiting is never good, but I think in many cases the doctors are doing the best that they can. There are some patient's who get in and get out and others who want to talk to the doctor for hours. I think the doctors who care are the ones you don't have to wait often in. If you are always waiting then the doctor should probably slow down.

  • by Pat B. Thu Sep 11, 2008 via blog

    I have also been a patient of Dr. Kanganis, and left her practice because of the long wait times. I tried to see her at least four times and each time had to wait at least 2 hours before getting in to see her. Her staff was belligerent and never those of us in the waiting room know how long we might be delayed in seeing her. I spent 5 years in Switzerland and had both my children there. The ob/gyn never kept me waiting for more than 15 minutes, except one time when she had an obstetrical emergency. Her office called to tell me about the delay and to offer me a chance to reschedule. I can say the same for the pediatrician, ophthamologist, and gastroenterologist that we used. I don't understand why US doctors can't show the same consideration.

  • by Ann Church Thu Oct 16, 2008 via blog

    I would like to comment on some of the things stated in what seems to be a Doc office bash- i am a receptionist,biller and what seems like a doc personal assistant- so i know why you are having to wait in the waiting rooms and why you are having to show ID, and verify info- To ALix Mills: the reason that we ask for the information such as SSn and ID is becasue we are trying to KEEP people from taking your identity, not take it for ourselves- there may be more people in the computer systems with the same, or similar names that you realize, and what if the "Alex Mills" that ISNT you isnt allergic to the same things you are, or had a procedure that changes how YOU could/would be medicaly treated at your next visit- its not that we are being sneeky and trying to get personal information- its just part of OUR job to verify info, that someone else might have been trying to use your SSN and THATS why it popped up in our system, or a simple typo- most of us are just trying to give you the best care possible- and sometimes that means a little effort on YOUR end to help us out- try and be considerate we just doing our jobs- Lawrence- to your comment about Drug reps- if your not one day you will be in what is called a "doughnut hole" with Medicare- where they will refuse to cover all medications and you will have to pay FULL price on drugs that in my office cost about $3,000 yes THREE THOUSAND dollars a month to take- so when the doctor takes a few minuts out of there already busy and rushed scheduals to sign a piece of paper so that FREE SAMPLES may be brought to the office, and people that dont have insurance and are in the medicare "hole" and YOU ONE DAY FOR A FREE PACK OF PILLS, take a little breath and know they arent just shooting the breaze to try and get a free pen- its really for the patients benifit.And what personal time were you refering to- the time after 5:00 PM when they are probubly still in the office dictating the care they gave- or when they are being paged after hours so you can get rid of the sniffles- maybe when they are with there families at night-heaven forbid they THEN take the personal time to help YOU out im sorry if this seems like a rant- but i see it from both sides, when i myself have to wait in the docs office for and hour waiting for an appointment- just take pride in knowing that your doctor is nice enough to spend some extra time with YOU when you are having a rough time, or answer your questions, or in an emergancy to reschedual his day to be by your side in the ER or ICU - i liked the advice to call and see how long the wait is- in the specialty clinic i work in i have to go see a regulat primary care rather than just hop in a room in MY office, and i call and ask the receptionist how long the wait is and how soon untill i actually need to drive accross town- yes i still may wait, but the poor receptionist who is already giving her all to probubly not yell at people who are being rude and ubnoxiouse in not giving information or has listened to babies SCREAMING in the waiting room ALLLLLLL day, has tried to make my visit a little better, so good advice to all - if you hate waiting try and get the first appointment, or right after lunch, whatever stress it is to get ready with kids, and other, may be worth not waiting for you- the staff in my office are trying to help you as the patient, we dont sit in the break room with our few preciouse min left ( after checking patients out into our lunch hour and beyond) thinking of ways to make YOUr life misserable- Docs dont go into health care to cause you pain and frustration - Just take into consideration some of these things next time you find yourself waiting, or asked to verify information- smile and know it could be worse- and it probubly is for us- becasue you wont be the first or last rude patient, or the last paerson to complain for waiting-

  • by Manuel Abella Mon Feb 16, 2009 via blog

    You don't have to wait. I find it interesting that people will wait at restaurants or the beauty shop. No one feels like rushing when it's their turn to see the doctor. They resent not being given an appointment right away when they don't feel well, but complain about waiting. I take as long as necessary with my patients, because my priority is excellent care not watching the clock. Those that would rather be treated like fast food can go elsewhere. The only one putting in the long hours and going home very late is me.

  • by lieben Fri Mar 6, 2009 via blog

    Interessante Informationen.

  • by Cam Beck Thu Apr 16, 2009 via blog

    Manuel - I think your priorities are in proper order: Take as long as you need to provide excellent treatment. If you have a reasonable schedule but circumstances dictate that you have to spend extra time with one or several patients to ensure you get it right, then that may mean that some other patients must wait longer. You must also realize that I never suggested that this was an improper response to those circumstances. In fact, I was very sympathetic to the doctors' plight. The crux of this article was that clinics ought to have mechanisms in place to make the wait more bearable, for they have a vested interest in having patients see them in a favorable light.

  • by Cam Beck Thu Apr 16, 2009 via blog

    Elizabeth - If legislation is what is prohibiting it, then the legislation is a problem, IMO. Happily, that's fixable. However, it's a fairly minor point, anyway, so I'm not sure it's worth the effort it would take to build a groundswell of support for it that would be necessary to influence the legislators. Thank you for bringing the point.

  • by Cam Beck Thu Apr 16, 2009 via blog

    Ann - Thank you for your comment. Of course I know nothing about where you work or what your office's practices are, but I would just continue to ask that, if you know that there is going to be a delay, let the people waiting know how long that delay is likely to be, to the best of your knowledge. And though, as Elizabeth pointed out, the co-pay may not be dropped, I stand by the request for refreshments. :) People can be pretty understanding of difficult circumstances if they are treated with courtesy.

  • by mimi Thu Jun 4, 2009 via blog

    I have only gone to Dr. Kanganis once. Before I saw her I was turned off by her staff who seemd very brusque. I was further turned off when I waited almost 2 hrs. before I was seen. I asked another woman in the waiting room if the delay was normal---she said yes, but thought it would've gotten better since Dr. Kanganis stopped her OBY practice. I like Dr. Kanganis immensely, but if I have to take off from work early in order to get an appointment, I would think I should be seen on time. Otherwise I would've gone after work, since that's the same time she finally saw me. As I said, I liked her very much, but have never waited for a doctor as long as I did with her! And her staff (except for the nurse) should take some nice pills or at least be helpful and not act like they're doing me a huge favor.

  • by somaie Mon Dec 28, 2009 via blog

    There's a movement to radically change California government, by getting rid of career politicians and chopping their salaries in half. A group known as Citizens for California Reform wants to make the California legislature a part time time job, just like it was until 1966. www.onlineuniversalwork.com

  • by C.M. Kiel Wed Feb 17, 2010 via blog

    Here is an idea - I do it and it works for me. Whenever a Doctor's office gives me a contract to sign, it usually has terms about cancelling your appointment if you are more than 15 minutes late - and still allows them to charge you for the visit. So, I add language in the margin that says, likewise, if the MD is more than 15 minutes late, I get to cancel with no charge. Then I initial and date the additional language. The first time the wait exceeds 15 minutes, I get up and tell the staff I am leaving because they have exceeded the 15 minutes in our contract. I guarantee you, you only have to get up and leave once and then, in the future, they seem to be able to get you in on time because they don't want to miss out on the revenue from your visit. In spite of this, however, I fired my Doc today because he kept me waiting - in order to visit with a pharmaceutical company drug rep - I think this is unethical behavior (see JAMA article on point), not to mention, rude to patients. Time to get a new Doc and sign a new contract. If all patients had the courage to stand up for themselves, MD offices might finally get the picture and start providing better customer service. By the way, I've never been the beneficiary of the "free" samples that the MD offices seem to be getting from drug reps, but I sure have to wait while their cute female reps go to the front of the line. Speak up! A patient's time is valuable too!

  • by D.J. Tue May 25, 2010 via blog

    My MD referred me to Dr. Langer @ Tri-County Endocrinology due to blood test results that indicated early Hashimoto's disease. I called the office to schedule an appointment and was told there was a 2 month waiting list for Dr. Langer but another Doctor had availability within 3 weeks. I wanted to see Dr. Langer because he came highly recommended and I have been feeling ill for a very long time with no real answers, so I told the receptionist that I would wait the 2 months because I definitely wanted to see Dr. Langer. Well, I waited almost 5-6 weeks, when I went in for my appointment I waited in the waiting room for almost an hour, and then in the examining room for another 1/2 hr before I saw the doctor. When I finally did get to see the Doctor, it wasn't Dr. Langer. They randomly assigned me to a different Doctor rather than the one I specially asked to see and the one I had waited over a month to see. When I questioned this the receptionist was so rude it was shocking and all but accused me of lying stating that I called and requested this other doctor when I originally made my appointment. Then I requested to have my next follow-up appointment with Dr. Langer and was told that I was now the other Doctors Patient and I could not just "switch" doctors. This has been the WORST doctor experience in my life and completely wasted almost 2 months of my time. I would not recommend this medical office for anything. The office staff is uncaring and down right rude. The wait time for both an appointment and the waiting room is on the extreme end. I have now re-scheduled my appointment with a Doctor from another practice - this was an unbelievably bad experience

    Also they were suppose to call me back the next day to see if anything could be worked out to see the correct doctor on my follow-up visit - they never even bothered to call - talk about not giving a care about your patients!

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