Tuesday, June 18, 2024

OPINION EXCHANGE | Health care lobby etiquette: Is respect a forgotten courtesy?

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Have you ever been to a doctor’s office waiting in line to check in while a patient is at the desk venting their frustration and disproportionate anger to an unsuspecting receptionist? People who do that are usually oblivious to the line backing up behind them or how their inappropriate behavior affects the person who is the unfortunate target of their ire.

Medical receptionists are happy to help patients with their appointments but generally have little control over the wide range of issues that anger patients, such as fees for parking, or doctors being called in to surgery causing appointment delays, or having to reschedule patients’ appointments because they were more than 15 minutes late or the cost of health care in general. Medical receptionists see and hear them all. Some of the greatest hits are the slow eye roll of dissent, the curmudgeon face, the eye daggers of death, the “bad dog!” shake of a newspaper, sneers and jeers, casting blame, throwing shade or other exhibits of contempt and judgment.

Here’s one that happens too often: refusing to listen by either talking over the person going above and beyond the call of duty for the sake of someone’s health care — or the real crowd-pleaser: walking away in anger before the receptionist can finish giving the unwanted pertinent information. Popular hits include “My time is valuable, too,” “Well, you’re not doing a very good job,” “Can you please not talk to each other, I want to read my book,” “I don’t think you’re sorry,” “You can justify it any way you want” or “I’m late because I couldn’t find a parking spot.” General name-calling and condemnation always go over well.

Some people seem to be under the impression that there are unlimited numbers of rooms and technicians, and they don’t understand why they can’t be seen when they arrive more than 15 minutes late for their appointment or why they can’t be seen early when they check in early. Once I had to tell a patient “I can’t magically make a room appear.” In another instance I had to say, “Do I need to call security?”

We’ve all heard the term “Karen” in reference to someone making unreasonable demands for which they have no right. I abhor the term, because it vilifies a certain segment of the population and besmirches the name Karen. But maybe it’s more than a few unruly people singled out for bad behavior. Maybe we are so used to instant gratification that we have developed a “me first” mentality and our society has forgotten the value of simple courtesies like good manners, kindness and caring for others.

People forget that if they expect to be treated with respect, they need to reciprocate. Most patients are kind and courteous during the check in process, but some forget that the person sitting behind the desk has feelings, too. When people go to see their doctor, they expect to be treated with respect and kindness. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of circumstances, which includes patients and medical professionals as well.

The 1950s retail motto “the customer is always right” doesn’t apply in today’s world, especially in health care. As health care professionals, we put the patients’ needs before our own for their sake. However, health care facilities have a code of conduct for the benefit of patients as well as staff. This is to ensure everyone is protected from disrespectful, racist, discriminatory, hostile and harassing words and actions. There are policies and procedures every health care system must follow. The facility will take appropriate action for inappropriate behavior of patients and staff for everyone’s safety.

On the opposite spectrum we have patients engaging in conversation with one another rather than looking down at their phones (which always warms my heart) or coming up to the desk with a smile at check in or stopping on the way out to tell us a fun joke. There are even some who go beyond kindness with words of encouragement and gratitude.

The front desk medical receptionists see every single patient that walks into the clinic every day.

Call center staff take calls nonstop with no time between calls, orchestrating a very complicated scheduling system which is sometimes time consuming and frustrating, but they do it with patience, kindness and respect. Most callers are appreciative, but call center agents also receive the most verbal garbage spewed. We have boundaries and policies that protect us but unfortunately, by the time the boundary is crossed the damage has already been done.

In conclusion, my point is that there are no free passes when it comes to rudeness, insults, expressions of anger, disgust, derision or any other form of verbal abuse toward anyone. If you expect respect you need to demonstrate it as well.

Sandi Torrini, of Minneapolis, is a medical receptionist.

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