Both sides to this scenario: physician and receptionist versus patient

07 Jan

Do the physicians really know what’s happening at the front desk?  Is it the patient that has the problem?  Is it the receptionist’s problem?  Usually the physician will believe it’s the patient, and the receptionist is right! Ultimately, the patient’s problem!

By far this isn’t a first time I observed this type of behavior by a receptionist.  I believe most receptionists are good.  I’ve worked as a receptionist, a nurse, and a patient.  It’s understandable everyone has good and bad days.  I plead for those who work with people who are having bad days please stay home or leave work.

Your behavior is not acceptable.  Placing blame onto a patient can interfere with proper diagnosis and treatment.  Blaming the patient unfairly “labels” them and that lasts their entire lifetime!

Recently, my husband and I were sitting in the waiting room of physicians’s office when a patient comes from her appointment.  She stood patiently to ask the receptionist a question.  She asks the young woman at the desk when she could expect to pick up the completed paperwork.

office setup

office setup (Photo credit: Rob ‘n’ Rae)

The reply she received from the receptionist was curt and cold: “I don’t know”.   The patient asked if it would be ready within one week.  Again, the reply was nasty “I don’t know when I’ll get to doing your paperwork!”  With that reply the patient told her she would sit in the waiting room until she could answer her question.

This frustrated patient called her husband and told him to bring her lunch and dinner to the office because she’s not getting an answer and she’s planning to wait in the waiting room for an answer.

Oh…I’ve observed this type of behavior by office staff many times and it’s time the world knows what really happens!  I just felt like going over and talking to this patient but I chose not to since I already felt overwhelmed hearing this scenario play out time-and-time again!

We couldn’t avoid hearing the conversations that transpired among the patient and the receptionist also the patient and her husband.  This was her last appeal with social security and she had a deadline to submit her paperwork.  I’m certain that by now her level of frustration with this political and healthcare system has reached it’s peak.

She’s not alone in these situations.  People are dealing with health issues that don’t allow for any further ignorance and stress. They don’t want to be off work! These patients have NO reserve left.  They’ve been labeled inappropriately because of the systems that blame another rather than help.  Often misdiagnosed preventing prompt and proper treatment that one can recover from.

In this case it was ridiculous that this receptionist left the office to talk with the staff in another office while the physician was seeing another patient. Later, when my name was called and we stood just inside the door about six feet from the patient we overheard the conversation with physician and receptionist.

She gave an entirely different picture than what happened!  She simply told him the patient is “refusing to leave the office”.  He told her to call the police!  Instead the receptionist yelled out to the patient that she can pick up the paper next Thursday at noon.  The patient calmly replied “that’s all I wanted was an answer” and left the office.

A physician performs a routine checkup on a pa...

When the physician asked the receptionist if the police had arrived yet, her reply was “the patient left the office before I could call the police”.

Was the patient frustrated?  Of course, who wouldn’t be!  Was she belligerent?  Absolutely NOT! Was she looking for answers? Yes.  Was she looking for a hard time?  No.  This interaction will affect treatment for years to come.  She’s not alone.

Unfortunately the physician never heard this communication among patient and receptionist.   I cringe to think how this could adversely affect this patient’s care in the future.  At this same physician’s office it was recently vandalized by a patient and the patient was arrested.

I ask myself the question:  What really happened?  What triggered destructive behavior? Regardless, every one is in charge of their own behaviors and actions and destruction is never excusable and should be punishable by law.

Have you witnessed problems while waiting for your appointments?  How do you think we should handle these scenarios?

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5 responses to “Both sides to this scenario: physician and receptionist versus patient

  1. sunlight in winter

    January 7, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    Ugh… my stomach was already twisted into a frustrated knot by the end of the third paragraph… because I definitely know what you’re talking about!

    I used to work in a group home for people with mental illness and I would see the same thing all the time. At every shift change, the outgoing employees would fill the incoming employees in on what went on during the shift. Many of my co-workers would twist the truth around, mischaracterizing the residents’ actions in order to cover their own butts. The lack of compassion and empathy was astounding. I think sometimes people working in these situations become jaded… but sometimes they really are just bad people.

    • brain injury self rehabilitation (BISR)

      January 7, 2013 at 8:42 pm

      Thank you for sharing your observations. I must agree, this a daily problem. Patients, residents, and clients health and life are at stake simply because of inappropriate comments and actions. What is the best way we should advocate for ourselves? Maybe a chart review with the patient’s input should be appropriate. When one is not well, the chart review may be impossible. It would be great to get a handle on this issue at time documentation occurs. This problem affects not only the patient but the families involved. Again, I appreciate your honesty revealing your observations. We need better care for everyone!

  2. sunlight in winter

    January 8, 2013 at 9:29 am

    It’s so hard to know what the answer is. In the setting I was in, the people on the patient-end were not always reliable story-tellers either, for one reason or another having to do with their mental illnesses. This is why it was so easy for staff members to “edit” the truth.

    I think a system that might be appropriate for many different kinds of settings would be for the office manager or whoever is in charge to keep a tally of complaints made about individual staff members. That way it would be clear if there is any kind of pattern over time. In a mental health setting, even the best staff members have complaints made against them from time to time. Keeping a tally over months and years, however, will undoubtedly reveal that some employees have been the subject of many more complaints than others. Once someone’s “complaint count” pulls way ahead of his or her coworkers’, it’s time for a supervisor to intervene.

    • brain injury self rehabilitation (BISR)

      January 8, 2013 at 3:55 pm

      This is definitely a hard one. Checks and balances are in place to a certain extent. You make another point … the families and patient’s do NOT always provide accurate information. Mentally ill or criminal family members have the potential to cause disasters by notifying physicians or staff of false information and/or allegations. This takes healthcare in the wrong direction and potential to cause permanent and life-threatening problems. This also happens when anxiety levels are high and families are intolerable of simple memory issues. Some families just cope better than others.

      Tolerance, anxiety, commitment all play a factor … but ultimately is all about perception. There is also financial abuse where families provide information that is totally inaccurate because their perceptions or other ideas … does a loved one really have the memory problems to the extent or is it exaggerate, causing improper treatment!?

  3. kflickinger73

    January 28, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    I can sympathize, I have been in similar situations in my 39 years of life.


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