Kremmling " Waiting Times Shorter in Rural Family Practices
September 14, 2008
Have you ever been pushed to your smart alec limits? I fired off this classic obnoxious and sarcastic behavior a few years ago when I was expected to wait to see a family nurse practitioner for a time longer than I thought reasonable.
I was 15 minutes early as I walked into the health care clinic in the city needing medicine and advice for what I was sure was either a common flu bug or the chill of the grim reaper’s touch.
“Sign in over there,” the indifferent receptionist told me without even so much as a glance in my direction.
“Give me your insurance card and I.D.,” she continued while focusing more on her computer screen and telephone headset than on me, the (barely) living person right in front of her.
“Go sit over there.”
“Over there” was a virtual Petri dish of germs in the making by a dozen or so people who looked and sounded to be even sicker than I was. Should I take the paper work outside in the below zero temperature and hope the ink won’t freeze as I fill in my information in lieu of risking further contamination? I choose to conform, roll the dice and join the rest of the waiting room sickies, figuring I couldn’t possibly get any sicker.
I returned to the receptionist to turn in all required paper work and found my insurance card and I.D. sitting on the counter. She expected me to pick it up and not bother her any more than I already had. It was now time for my appointment, but nothing was said so I returned to take my seat in the Petri dish expecting to be up shortly.
Fifteen minutes passed then 20, then 30. Everyone except me was being called. “What’s going on here?” I wondered. “Did I miss something?” Nobody communicated a word to me.
“Maybe I wrote the wrong time down. Maybe I am at the wrong clinic.” I resolved that they were overbooked and behind schedule due to the number of patients and decided to give them some leeway.
Forty minutes and then an hour passed and still not a word from the receptionist. One hour and thirty minutes past my scheduled appointment time later, I decided to make the courageous move to the counter to ask what was going on.
“Excuse me,” I said gently as to not irritate the receptionist. Her immediate response was her index finger directed towards me indicating that she was on the phone making appointments.
“OK, that is reasonable,” I thought to myself. “Be cool.” I would just wait for her call to end. As I stood there, just apposite of her computer screen and across the counter, I watched her put her finger up in the same position three more times, each time, just as I took the little breath before speaking.
I just wanted to ask her what the hold up was and if I was going to be seen today. Then finally she looked at me for the first time. “Yes?” she said indignantly. And then it happened. Before I could ask my harmless and justifiable question ” I got the finger again, now for the fourth time.
Enter Mr. Smart Alec. I saw a business card on the counter, unholstered my cell phone for verbal firing and dialed the clinic’s number. She answered immediately. I was ecstatic to be finally talking with someone.
“Hello. My name is Eric Murray. I had an appointment over an hour and a half ago to see the nurse practitioner about my flu. I was even here 15 minutes early. So really I’ve been waiting for nearly two hours. Can you tell me how much longer it will be so I can plan the rest of my day and make other arrangements if necessary?”
Of course I was halfway through my phone conversation with her when she realized I was standing just opposite of her and across her counter. Then, instead of the finger, I got “the look.”
But Smart Alecs don’t let up, especially when they feel their behavior is justified.
“Was my insurance denied? Did my I.D. prompt a federal background check? I’ve got cash. Do you take cash?”
The look continued as I looked back at her dead in the eye. “Look, just tell me how much longer it will be and if I need to reschedule,” I said hanging up my phone and finishing the sentence in person.
“Twenty minutes,” she said. “Sorry, we were unexpectedly slammed with appointments and one of the nurse practitioners showed up late due to the weather.”
“There. Was that so difficult?” I asked and then ended my theatrics.
I was immediately defused and Mr. Smart Alec went away. Another 20 minutes is bearable. I could go grab a Starbucks and be back just in time, and so I did.
I have often sat in waiting rooms in Grand County since that big city medicine experience and watched time and again, the customer-service oriented courtesy displayed by receptionists. Providing regular information to patients in the waiting room makes people feel respected.
Most of us are reasonable people and we are willing to work within any situation if the information is communicated. We understand that going to the family practice clinic isn’t like ordering a burger and fries where everyone before you ordered the same thing and the time taken to get yours is easily predictable. The doctors and nurses have to work with different illnesses that aren’t always immediately understood. This can result in more questions, further investigation, and more tests ” all taking up more time and pushing the wait. An empowered receptionist willing to communicate can make all the difference. Imagine if mine that day had said something like this:
“We are running a little behind today, Mr. Murray, because of the number of sick people with the flu. Also, one of our practitioners came in late ” the storm last night was pretty bad. We are sorry for your inconvenience and recognize that you are not feeling well. It looks like we are a couple of hours behind. Our practitioners and doctors are working as fast as they can while maintaining high medical standards and quality patient care. Would you like me to reschedule you for another day?
Otherwise I will keep you posted on progress every 15 minutes or so.”
I know that if the receptionist had taken the time to talk to me while waiting I would have either understood and waited patiently or I would have made other arrangements. This receptionist had the power to keep me content as well as the power to keep away Mr. Smart Alec.
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