Saturday, 30 June 2012

An interesting case for better patient communication

I happened to visit a hospital XYZ today and went to meet an acquaintance in the Customer Care department of the hospital. As I was speaking to my friend, a patient came to her office. He showed his reports and told that he’s been admitted in the hospital a few days back and wants to show his reports to his consulting doctor for a follow-up. He was visibly anxious considering the health condition he was going through and, he claimed, he had to travel 30 Kms to come to the hospital.

He came to complain that he wanted to meet his consulting doctor but the receptionist is asking him to show the reports to a ‘junior doctor’. He also wanted to consult doctor ‘M’ in another specialty for a different health problem. He had called the previous evening to the reception and was told that he can meet the doctor today (Saturday) at 1 PM. But after coming to the OPD today, he was told that doctor ‘M’ is not there today. He was upset that nobody understood his concern and was made to unnecessarily visit the hospital without any chance of meeting both the consultants.

Upon enquiry by my friend, it was found that all the appointments for his consulting doctor were booked and he could take his chances of meeting the doctor as a ‘walk-in’. Since there were already a lot of patients waiting as walk-in, the reception thought it better to send him to meet the ‘Associate Consultant’ who would be able to give an advice. In the other department, doctor ‘M’ cancelled his plans of coming to the hospital today morning only and communicated to the reception.

In both the cases, the patient held the receptionists responsible for his troubles, whereas the fact was that in both the cases, either the appointments were not available or the doctor himself cancelled his plan at the last moment.

So was there a mistake at the receptionists’ end?
From my own experience of managing the out-patient departments, I have come across such situations time and again. When one enquires, one finds that the receptionists have acted for the benefit of the patients but end up getting the blame from the patients. So where exactly is the problem?

The devil is in the detail. Many patients like their doctors to decide on the course of their treatment on their behalf because of the trust factor and lack of their inherent knowledge. But replace the doctor with the administrative staff and the patients’ attitude change. They like to be informed completely and properly about ‘what is happening in the back’. Rather than simply giving one line instructions to the patients, administrative teams are expected to provide more details to the patients for them to decide for themselves what their best options are. Patients generally don’t trust administrative staff to decide on their behalf, whatever may be the intention. So the more you communicate, the more your avoid patient complaints.
In the first case, the receptionist should have clarified the context to the patient by telling him that there are no appointments available. While the patient believed he has been asked to meet a ‘junior doctor’, the receptionist should have explained to him clearly that he’s meeting an equally qualified consultant because his own consultant is not available and that she’s trying to simplify his problem. If the associate consultant finds any problem with his reports, he would definitely refer him to meet the consultant immediately.

In the second case, rather than only telling that doctor ‘M’ will not be available today, the receptionist should have first apologized for the inconvenience caused to the patient (of course she is apologizing on behalf of the doctor). Next, she should have explained that his information is correct and it was provided by the reception only. But due to some unforeseen circumstances, the doctor cancelled his OPD visit today, which they came to know in the morning. This should be followed by offering a few options to the patient, like a consultation with another doctor or an appointment for another day with an assurance to give a confirmation call to him on the morning of the appointment day.

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