My mother used to say, “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” I thought of Mama when I recently walked into my new doctor’s office for the first time.
We’d met in the hospital after my trip to the ER with scary symptoms that turned out to be a false alarm. This man is laid-back, affable, reassuring, approachable – thoroughly likeable in every way. Let me be clear: I am a fan.
So I was surprised by his office. Signs attached to the waiting room walls bore warnings and prohibitions in capital letters and bold print. They scowled at me like an angry nun with a pointed ruler.
“Do NOT ask us to prescribe anything but [medical specialty] medicine.” (There followed a list of meds that were NOT to be requested.) “NO eating in waiting room. “ “Copays are due SAME DAY of visit.” The only “please” I saw was also a rule: “Please do not touch the TV.”
Monetary penalties were listed for missed appointments or late cancellations, extra fees for requesting records. All were full of NOs, NOTs, and MUSTs. I felt like a naughty child about to jump on the sofa.
Lots of vinegar!
I mentioned my surprise to the doctor. He smiled (a little sheepishly I thought), “Our lawyers make us do that.” Now, I’m a lawyer. I understand that prescribing meds for something you don’t treat could present liability. But the same information can be given in gentler, kinder, ways.
Because I want people to like my doctor as much as I do, I offered to suggest possible changes, and he agreed to consider them. Here then is my humble offering:
1. Ask potential patients orally, when they make an appointment, to please bring current insurance cards and co-pay. Cushion this with a little explanation: “Because insurance changes every year, we’ll need to make a copy of your insurance cards when you come.” Combine this with “We appreciate that you’ve chosen Dr. _______ as your specialist and look forward to meeting you,” said with a smile in the voice.
2. Take paper notices off the walls and hand a single sheet (see below) to people when they fill out their initial forms. Walls are for pictures, not warnings.
3. Combine all information that’s not obvious into one page. Skip the obvious altogether. If it doesn’t fit on one page there are too many rules! Example: No need to list all the meds you won’t prescribe. Such a list will always be incomplete. And saying you MUST fill out your forms is obvious. If somebody misses a form, the receptionist just hands it back and asks her/him to please complete it. And eating in the waiting room? Is that really an issue? What about diabetics?
4. Substitute a positive alternative for the negative prohibition. “We appreciate payment on the day of service.” Or, “We are sorry but we can only prescribe ______ meds.” If a patient asks why – okay, then blame it on the lawyer!
Remember, patients visiting a doctor are often anxious and afraid. They may be very sick. The doctor may have to deliver bad news. How about a little TLC? A little honey?