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September 3rd, 2010
06:28 PM ET

Why do doctors' offices have to be so darned rude?

David Gewirtz | BIO
AC360° Contributor
Director, U.S. Strategic Perspective Institute

"Insurance?"

I was calling a new doctor for an appointment, and rather than saying something pleasant, like "Hello," the very first word out of the receptionist's mouth was "Insurance?"

Oh, well. "Yes," I answered. "Yes, I have insurance."

The woman's reply rocked me back a little, simply because of the complete rudeness of her tone.

"IN! SUR! ANCE!"

She bit off each part of the word, just to make it clear she deeply disapproved of my response. I eventually ascertained that she wanted to know the name of my insurance provider before she'd be willing to let me even speak to the person who scheduled appointments.

I wasn't just being doc-blocked from the doctor, I had to justify myself simply to be allowed to speak to the office scheduler.

Fortunately, my company provides me with relatively good insurance, and after providing the doctor's various gatekeepers with a complete identity-theft kit worth of information, I was granted the privilege of an introductory appointment with the great man himself.

Now, you have to understand that I have a pretty powerful ego. I've also been fortunate enough to be a rather successful professional. I don't particularly enjoy power games played to make me feel less worthy than the professional I've chosen to hire.

For yes, that's what we do. We hire our doctors. For ten minutes or an hour at a time, we provide payment as trade for their services.

This particular doctor came recommended by my wife. She'd met him while working at a local hospital and she "liked his energy."

I haven't met him yet. I'm a potential new customer. My first encounter with his office hasn't been positive. I know the doctor isn't his office staff, but in almost every other profession, leaders take responsibility for the behavior of their subordinates.

Here's another example. A few years ago, my wife was making an initial appointment with a new gynecologist, and the receptionist actually came out and asked my wife, "Do you have a job?"

My wife is still annoyed about that incident, and still isn't quite sure what the woman was getting at. Did she want to know if my wife was available during business hours, if she had employer-provided health care, if she would be able to pay for the appointment, or exactly how she occupied her time? Why was that an okay question to ask? It wasn't within the context of taking a health history. It was simply part of the process of begging for an appointment.

While health care insurance has been a big issue for the country over the last year or so, and health insurance companies are almost universally disliked, what's disturbing is just how nasty many doctors' offices are to their patients.

Over the past year or so, I've talked to a lot of people while researching the health care chapters for How To Save Jobs, and most of them described a general satisfaction with their doctors, but a deep dissatisfaction with their doctors' staffs.

I know working with patients isn't particularly fun. They're all whining and complaining about something. I know there's a mountain of paperwork. It also costs a lot to provide services. Like all other business owners, doctors want to get paid. The front office staff probably doesn't get paid all that much.

Business schools teach a formal sales process, consisting of many different stages. One of those stages is called "qualification," and that's the stage where you determine if a customer plans to buy soon, has the authority to buy, and has the means and budget to pay.

Obviously, qualification is a critical part of the sales process, but it's not the only part. In fact, if you walked into a store and were immediately required to present your wallet, you'd be weirded out. If you walked into a car dealer and the sales person immediately demanded your provide your financial history before even saying hello, you'd leave.

But, for some reason, many doctors offices seem to feel it’s okay to rudely qualify their customers before providing even the simplest of pleasantries. It's as if - if you don't meet their standards - you're not even worthy of the word "hello.”

I'm going to visit this new doctor on Wednesday. I already have a bad feeling about it, not because of the doctor, and not even because of the medical issue itself, which is quite minor.

No, the reason I'm not looking forward to meeting this new doctor on Wednesday is because I'm not looking forward to what I assume will be the continuing rude behavior of his staff.

As a nation, we have a lot of work to do in order to make our health care payment system competitive with the rest of the world. But there's one thing that we can do now, one thing that doesn't cost a cent: we can be polite.

Everyone will feel just a little better.

Follow David on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/DavidGewirtz.

Editor's note: David Gewirtz is Director of the U.S. Strategic Perspective Institute and Editor-in-Chief of the ZATZ magazines. He is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts and a top expert on saving and creating jobs. He is a member of FBI InfraGard, the Cyberwarfare Advisor for the International Association for Counterterrorism & Security Professionals, a columnist for The Journal of Counterterrorism and Homeland Security, and has been a guest commentator for the Nieman Watchdog of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. He is a faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley extension, a recipient of the Sigma Xi Research Award in Engineering and was a candidate for the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in Letters.


Filed under: David Gewirtz • Opinion
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. SEPPE

    on David Gerwitz observation,I AGREEEEEE TWO 200 % TOTALY ,and is more, what about all the question that have nothing to do for what you in for,and they never ask what are you there for,WE NEED TO CHANGE THE CULTURE IN THIS COUNTRY!.

    September 4, 2010 at 12:16 pm |
  2. Lesley

    I'm a medical coder and working in the healthcare industry has not been pleasant. Somewhere along the line some healthcare professionals seem to think because they posses the knowledge to help or in some circumstances "cure", they are entitled to this rude "god complex". It has me seeking a new career unfortunately. Thanks for sharing your insight.

    September 4, 2010 at 9:44 am |
  3. Rose Marie Vitacco

    Your piece on Why do doctors' offices need to be so rude" is something I have been waiting a journalist to talk about. Experience is the best teacher in my book. As a counselor many times esp. dealing with other professionals I can very quickly determine why in this case this particular doctor is in business. I ususally hear "who can we thank for this referral or how did you learn about us"? This one question lets me know right off it is not about me or my health but about them and their practice. I get off the phone before any insurance questions are even asked. Narcissism period. ME me me us us us.
    These doctors' "gatekeepers" need some assistance with simply being polite and not alienating potential patients. Then, God forbid you take their referral to a "specialist" and want to change to another doctor because you feel that doctor compromised your sisters' right coronary artery. They become defensive and abrupt and say" are you going to stay with this new doctor for any length of time"? Were you not listening-my sister did not have an aneurism forming BEFORE the stent was implanted sistah! Let YOUR family go to this doctor, we are outta here. Thank you thank you so much for sharing your experience and finally, I relate to how you felt walking into this doctors' office for your first visit. I think the doctor should know what is going on "out front". Tell him, maybe positive changes will occur for the next new patient. We are blessed because my sister 8 years ago was invited to be a primary patient to a doctor who is compassionate, brilliant and tough when he needs to be. He has signs up "Just Do Your Best". Most of his staff adheres to this suggestion. Thank you again. Keep us posted.

    September 4, 2010 at 7:51 am |
  4. Della Thomas

    Annderson , you did a good job on your "truth" finding on Texas Rep. Bernice Jonnson. You proved that she wasn't telling the truth. Why didn't you prove the false statements made by Arizona's Gov. Didn't she say she had balanced the budget in Arizona and something else that she didn't tell the truth about. That was before she lost her train of thought. I'm talking about Gov. Jan B. I hope you research the statements she made. We would like to know if what she said was true or false. I enjoy your show a lot. Thank you.

    September 4, 2010 at 6:04 am |
  5. Lisa

    Please teLl this doctor about
    your unpleasant interaction with his staff. It's been my experience that physicians are often unaware of their staff's bad behavior with patients. I hope you'll let us know what happens when you visit.

    September 4, 2010 at 4:00 am |
  6. Laurel

    I have left several doctors' offices for expecting me to sit in their waiting rooms for several hours because THEY can't keep on schedule. You're RIGHT. We DO HIRE them. They aren't gods, they are doctors, and there are LOTS of doctors out there! From now on, if I have to wait for you for an hour, we'll be deducting the cost of MY time from your office visit!

    September 4, 2010 at 1:06 am |
  7. J.V.Hodgson

    I agree whole heartedly Mr.Gerwitz. The next step is to prove that whatever minor condition it is you are going to the doctor for does turn out to be classifiable as a pre-existing condition by your insurer.
    My brother who lives and works in UK ( single payer system), cannot understand how I and you put up with huge cost increases every year, oppose a single payer system and have to co pays for almost everything and as he says I all Ihave to pay for Is prescription medications $10 a month. He had quadruple heart by pass surgery and re-hab over 8 weeks and not one cent did he pay. By the way the cost is 30% of US Insurance rates. Two reasons I told him 1) the excessively large salaries of Doctors the vast majority of whom are specialists because it pays more and makes nonsense of the republican argument of taking you away from "your doc" 2) The Oft repeated tests because of the legal being sued risks.
    My brother tell me he was amazed that when he moved House he had to re=register with the new doctor in the New location and his medical file history went with him... no need fo repeated allergy questions childhood illnesses past surgeries major illnesses, it was all in the file!! You say who your doctor is to a hospital they contact him get your National health ID number and can see everything on the PC, and treat you properly PDQ.
    QED with that system your problem would never arise.
    Regards,
    Hodgson.

    September 4, 2010 at 12:56 am |
  8. Lisa

    Wow. I went to the doctor the other day for my annual check up. Was there almost an hour, got everything checked/tested that needed done. picked up 2 prescriptions, and went for a myriad of blood tests. Dealt with nice, polite people all the way along. The best part – even though I was laid off from work almost a year ago, I had no need to worry about coerage and how/if I could pay for it. All of the above was FREE. Then again, I am Canadian.

    September 4, 2010 at 12:28 am |
  9. CJ

    I would find another Doctor. Plus I would of sent a letter to the doctor explaining what happened. Make sure you put personal and confidential on the envelope. But sense you still have a appointment with this doctor, it's a good time for you to explain to him what happened. If he is a good doctor, he will apologize.

    September 4, 2010 at 12:04 am |
  10. Carla

    Wow.... how sad is that! I am grateful I live in a Country (Canada) where everyone has free healthcare. We pay alot in taxes .... but so worth it!

    September 3, 2010 at 11:37 pm |