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