Maybe I’m just a bit compulsive, but I like to combine my errands geographically. That is, if I need to go to the bank and the library and they’re in close proximity, I plan to go to both during the same trip. If I need gas and a lottery ticket, I buy both when I’m at the gas station.
And if I need to make a mammogram appointment and see my physician at the same hospital, I do both while I’m at this one convenient location, right?
Confused? So was I last week when I went to Condell Medical Center in Libertyville for a routine doctor’s appointment. Because I was also due for my annual mammogram, I decided to ask my doctor for the required physician’s order. She gladly gave it to me, and I walked out of her office expecting to make my mammogram appointment on the way out of the building. It couldn’t have been more geographically appropriate – I literally had to walk past the front desk of the Breast Imaging Center as I made my way from my doctor’s office to the main hospital entrance.
A nice-enough looking woman sat at the breast center’s front desk. No one else was in the vicinity and she did not look very busy. I approached her, my mammogram order in hand.
“I’d like to make an appointment for my annual mammogram,” I said, holding out the order.
She quickly snatched it from my hand. “Here’s what you need to do,” she said, pointing at a phone number on the sheet of paper. “Call our scheduling office and they’ll set it up for you.”
“Can’t I just schedule it right here?” I asked.
She continued to point. “You have to call our scheduling office. All appointments go through here.” She handed back the order and began to turn away.
My temples began to throb a bit, and I couldn’t resist pointing out the obvious. “How interesting that I'm physically standing in the breast center and talking to you face-to-face but you can't schedule an appointment for me using the computer in front of you."
She stared at me with a smug grin on her face and said nothing. I took a deep breath and walked away.
This experience disturbed me on two levels. First, I can’t help but wonder whether it’s really more efficient to handle scheduling in this way. It may be more efficient for the provider, but what about the patient? The lunacy of not being able to schedule an appointment at a medical center while you are actually there is enough to frustrate a patient into noncompliance. My first thought? “Screw it – I’ll go somewhere else where I can actually schedule an appointment in person if I happen to be in the vicinity.”
(Disclaimer --> I ended up calling the damn scheduling office and setting up my mammogram at Condell, but only after a few days of weighing the pros and cons of switching providers.)
But not everyone would comply with calling after being denied the ability to make an appointment in person. And noncompliance is a bad thing. It can lead to missed diagnoses of breast cancer or other conditions, which in turn creates more suffering and higher health care costs.
And so I ask again: Is it really more efficient to tell a diligent patient to go away and call a phone number to make an appointment at the very clinic in which she is standing?
That’s just the first level at which this disturbs me. The second level pertains to customer service. Even if a medical center’s rules prohibit you from scheduling an appointment for a patient in person, is it really necessary to act smugly about it? Is it considered compassionate care when you look quite satisfied with yourself for informing a patient – who could be in a great deal of distress, and who could have had to muster up a lot of courage to even make this appointment – that you cannot (and don’t have to) help them?
Please, at least tell me you’re sorry. Perhaps offer me your phone so I can make the call from your desk. Or simply commiserate with me that you know it’s inconvenient and an extra step, but that doing it this way will assure that I get the best appointment possible, given my circumstances.
I do hope that my experience was an anomaly, but I’m afraid it was not – a brief Facebook post about my adventure yielded many comments from women who had gone through similar inconveniences and mistreatments.
And we wonder why healthcare is inefficient. Come on, medical community, please wake up and start thinking about how to make your patients feel valued again.
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