Years ago when I worked at a radiology office behind the front desk, a pregnant patient pointed her finger at me and threatened to get me fired. In between breaths into a paper bag, I summoned up the courage to call my supervisor to explain. I was barely 19 years old and shaking like an abused puppy. Surely I would be walking out the door with my pink slip that afternoon.
What was the cause of such a threat? I gave the wrong instructions for how she should prep (she needed to fast instead of drink a lot of water for a different kind of sonogram…oops) when she called to make an appointment. It was an easy mistake and an error that I apologized for and learned from. I didn’t lose my job over it, of course. My supervisor was more than understanding and the patient was out of line, yet I remember how fearful I was.
My experience working in that kind of environment, with a plethora of angry patients who walked through the door, gave me a thicker skin and a diplomatic skill set. When I became the supervisor, I learned how to diffuse situations with carefully selected phrases, eased feelings with apologies, and presented scenarios that met somewhere in the middle of pleasing the patient and protecting the employee.
We’re talking clerical stuff here. You know, following office procedure to ensure safety, efficiency, liability, professionalism, and confidentiality.
I was WELL familiarized with the term office procedure. But when it was appropriate, I was also familiar with the term professional courtesy and just being a nice person.
Which is why my hot button was pushed today when I went into Mini’s pediatrician’s office – ex-pediatrician’s office – to pick up her medical records. We had been patients for 9 years but were leaving over a big issue. After calling the main pediatrician (and not getting a response) and writing a letter to him (and not getting a response), I followed up with a call to see if the records were copied and waiting for me to be picked up.
No, they weren’t. Yes, the doctor read my letter. But no, I had to come in and sign a release form. And the cost would be $10.80.
I said I would like for that fee to be waived, given the circumstances of why I was leaving. I strongly believe they didn’t take Mini’s allergic reaction seriously enough, starting with the person who answered the phone that day. When I called to talk about it, the office manager not only didn’t apologize, but she dwarfed my concerns to cover their actions (among other things). So I wrote a well-written letter, asking for a response, and requested copies of Mini’s records.
The nurse who relayed the message called me back about a minute later once she talked to the doctor (who was probably sitting right there, it’s a very small office and it was at the end of the day). He told her to tell me it’s office procedure to pay the fee. Yet he wouldn’t come after me if I didn’t pay it.
That’s not a carefully selected phrase.
Without going into more details, the bottom line is that the doctor will not waive the fee because that is an admission of wrongdoing. He must have wanted her to clarify that because she called back.
I saw where this was going and I assured her that I did not have a litigious motive here. I just wanted an act of kindness – professional courtesy – given for 9 years of being their patient. Is that too much to ask? Can’t they just give me 17 pages of copies without charging me?
I almost gave in and just paid the ridiculous ten bucks.
But today when I picked up the records three women on his staff were sitting behind the front desk. They knew exactly who I was and why I was there. One asked me for my payment and I explained why I was not going to pay.
She said I had to pay or they wouldn’t give them to me. Clearly she knew about the letter and about my phone calls yesterday. I got an earful of office procedure.
It made me so mad. I did not feel respected or valued whatsoever. I took a deep breath, carefully selected my phrases, and gave them a piece of my mind.
I left with the records in hand.
It turns out my skin isn’t so thick on the patient’s side of the front desk, though.
I cried before I even pulled out of the parking lot.
And now they’re sending me a bill.
What would you do? Would you pay it?