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    Here’s how physicians can combat patient gripes


    (4) Incivility

    Rudeness should not be tolerated, on the part of our own staff, or patients. That having been said, being in a doctor’s waiting room may be the most stressful situation some of these people have ever faced—a swirling, hideous maelstrom of all their fears, financial woes, and we expect them to be…nice? Some kindness and guideline-setting by our own staff may help minimize friction and promote the concept that we, as health care givers, really do care about our patients’ health, and want to help them. For the incorrigibles, who may feel it’s acceptable to repeatedly take out their woes on our staff or us…the door is right over there. Use it. Protecting our staff and our own safety is a huge part of a successful practice.


    RELATED READING: Why are physicians holding off on retirement?


    (5) Family strife

    There, I’ve said it—families can be wonderful, but noisy ones in our waiting rooms may be out of control. Establishing guidelines (both written, posted, and verbal) may help to eliminate noise, cellphones and food, but if people can’t, or simply won’t comply, then there’s always the hallway or the street. We considered using a Faraday Cage to eliminate all signals in our office, but couldn’t implement it without losing our own cell phones.

    (6) Timeliness

    A virtue, to be sure, but not always possible. Having a firm policy in place may help, and letting patients know in advance that they need to be prompt or may lose their appointment seems to do the trick. Be firm, but be kind. Remember, when raising our kids, they always needed limits. 


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    (7) The dreaded all-in-one visit

    Last time I looked, we were all human, and then there are the additional limits of space and time—meaning, I simply cannot address thirty major problems that include and sometimes transcend 14 systems, in a 30-minute visit. Warn the patient, in advance, that their problems may need to be prioritized, and that you can and will address the direst of them during the visit, but they may need to follow up for future appointments in order to be comprehensive and not miss anything. This isn’t a disaster, it’s an opportunity to be thorough and really help the patient. If, on the other hand, the patient is simply wordy, or his fear has manifested as approach-avoidance, the physician may have to be confrontational and address how important the communication process is. But, above all, let the patient have a voice, and be heard, even if only for 30 minutes.

    (8) Failure to follow instructions

    Possibly my favorite of all these bugaboos. As doctors, we are reputed to be the worst patients in the world. There’s a modicum of knowledge at our disposal, nevertheless, when you or I get sick and actually need to consult with a physician, even if the problem isn’t one we’re handy with (for example, my PSA recently went from a delightful .5 to an unpleasant 5.5. Boy, did I learn a lot in a hurry!), we cope, and listen.

    Next: 'Why not assume some of the weight when a difficulty erupts?'

    Stephen Patt, MD
    Stephen Patt, MD is a semi-retired family medicine physician who lives with his beloved wife Lisa and wonder dog Sally Salt in the wilds ...


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    • [email protected]
      Your blog held my interest right to the very end, which is not always an easy thing to do!! A debt of gratitude is in order for the decent blog. It was extremely helpful for me. Continue sharing such thoughts later on too. This was really what I was searching for, and I am happy to come here!
    • UBM User
      Thank you for reasonable and sensible responses to these issues. Too often I see doctors grousing about their patients and refusing to see their role in the problem nor seeing it from the patients' point of view. I suspect a big part of the problem is doctors' getting squeezed between sicker patients (can't afford to come in until the problems get big) and crappier reimbursement. Some of these doctors need a break and should take a vacation and think about why they're in medicine and stop being in practices they hate. They don't have to accept delivering crappy service and being in a crappy job.

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