Doctor Card

Doctor Card (Photo credit: Saima)

You’re going to think I’m exaggerating this story but I swear to you that I’m not. I’m just not going to use names because it will make my life awkward but this is 100% true.

I went to a new doctor. As it was my first time at that office and I am a good little patient, I came 15 minutes early because I figured there’d be paperwork to fill out. (Side note: How is it that doctor’s offices have not advanced past paperwork yet? Why do I still have to fill out my name and address 90 times? Can’t there be an app for that?) I filled out all relevant paperwork and was done with 10 minutes until my appointment time. There were only two other people in the waiting room, both of whom came in after me, so I figured they’d call me soon.

I waited. And waited. Finally, the doctor saw me. The appointment itself was exactly 10 minutes. The doctor was nice enough but she raced through my check-up, gave me a prescription and ushered me out, saying I’d have to come back the next week for my “real” check-up. I told her that I had time for the “real” check-up now but she insisted that this was just the new patient check-up and that they always did the full check-up later. The one thing that did surprise me, though, was that she gave me not just one little free sample card of the prescription she’d given me but rather an entire bag of them! It was a free three months of pills, a substantial savings for me. But, free pills aside, I felt tremendously rushed.

I was so flabbergasted by this that I couldn’t even get my wits about me to object before she was gone. In retrospect, there’s a lot of things I could have done but I was stressed by the medical reasons I was there in the first place and wasn’t mentally myself enough to be like WTF, lady, so I just got ready to leave. As I got dressed, gathered my things and started back to the desk, I heard her in the room with her next patient and they were taking their time, goofing around and making small talk and playing with her small child that she’d brought along. They sounded like old friends catching up, not like doctor and patient.

My gut reaction was to be really angry. It would be one thing if she’d run off to deal with an emergency but it really seemed like she just wanted to get rid of me to hang out with the patient she was buddies with. But then I told myself that had to be in my head. I didn’t know what was really going on, no reason to read into anything too much. Today could just be an off day.

At the desk, I asked what was different between the full check-up and whatever this BS pre-check-up was. The woman at the desk rolled her eyes, like the doctor does this all the time, and explained that there is no difference, the doctor is just running late today and she probably didn’t feel like doing the whole exam today and she’d rather that I came in another week to do it but was trying to be nice about it. As she was explaining this, I noticed the hour for the first time since I got there.

I’d been there for exactly three hours. I’d waited just over two and a half hours for the doctor to see me to, basically, be told that she didn’t have time do my visit today. Why couldn’t she have sent me home when I first got there? Better yet, why couldn’t they have called ahead of time to cancel the appointment? What a colossal waste of my time!

I was still more worried about my medical issues than worried about doctor idiocy but I was starting to get annoyed. To cap it all off, the woman at the desk started to argue with me, saying I owed them just under $100 for this visit. Firstly, I checked with my insurance before I came and I owned nothing for this visit, and, secondly, were they really going to try to bill me for a visit that didn’t really happen? I finally just paid her because I had to go and I figured I’d take it up with my insurance later.

The next day, I called to make the “real” appointment for the following week and, still trying to give everyone the benefit of the doubt that my other visit had just been an off day, asked what time or day would be best to make an appointment so that I didn’t have to wait as long? Was the doctor more likely to be ready to see me on time if I came first thing in the morning or later in the week?

The woman informed me that it didn’t matter when I came, I would always have to wait. Even the very first appointment of the day, wasn’t seen until an hour or so later because the doctor herself was always running late. I made the appointment with heavy reservations now, figuring I’d give her one last chance mostly because I really appreciated how much she saved me on the prescription.

The morning of the new appointment, I kid you not, they called me to cancel it… 5 minutes before my appointment time. I got the call when I was already in the waiting room.

Needless to say, specialist or not, I changed doctors at this point. But my drama with the original doctor wasn’t done. When a  lab accidentally sent the results of a test to this doctor instead of my new one, it took months of back and forth trying to get them to send it to my new doctor (which is in the same freaking building, may I add) and then it took a full year of follow-ups on my part both over the phone and in person to get them to finally refund that $100 they made me pay that, as I originally told them, I didn’t need to pay because my insurance covered it.

What’s the point of my telling you all of this other than to make us all wonder why doctors aren’t subject to the same customer service rules as any other business?

It’s this: The doctor, and her office staff, are clearly awful. One mistake, maybe even two, I can excuse. But you don’t screw up this royally, again and again, unless you just don’t have your act together. A quick look online confirmed this, nearly all the reviews of that practice mention that they are always running late and that the office staff is disorganized and hard to deal with.

But here’s the kicker: they are almost all not just positive, but GLOWING positive reviews. “Well worth the wait!” promises one review while another says to never mind the office staff because the doctor is AMAZING and I LOVE HER in all caps. And I’m reading review after review like this after having the experience I had going… what?

And it occurred to me what was going on here. The doctor may have been total crap to me, a new patient, but she clearly worked hard to cultivate a close relationship with her existing patients, hence the socialization I heard in the room next to me. If I hadn’t been so turned off by all the initial drama of my first appointment, maybe she would have won me over just as strongly to where I didn’t care how poorly run her practice was, I’d have put up with all of it just because I loved her as a doctor.

There’s a lesson here for us business owners. You don’t have to have the best business. Every aspect of your company doesn’t have to run perfectly and parts of your service can downright stink and you’ll still succeed. Brand loyalty, the kind where your customers truly love you and your service, can make them overlook a lot of serious flaws. At the same time, a handful of loyal customer is worth hundreds of customers that are lukewarm about you.

What lessons do you take away from this? Have you ever experienced good or poor customer service from a doctor’s office?