My internist says that Americans are too accustomed to putting up with bad medicine. When he said this, he referred to my inability to get test results from another office, not to actual medical skill. The staff at some doctor's offices I've been to are paternalistic, condescending, and rude to patients, often getting away with it because patients desire or require care from a particular physician. However, I've been known to change practices based solely on poor office management and bad manners. I wrote the following letter today and faxed it. If the doctor wishes not to see me because of such a complaint, then that's not a doctor I would want to see in the long term anyway. Compare and contrast to the spine doctor's office, which accommodated me even when I made a mistake--they didn't have to do so.
May 27, 2008
I contacted your office mid-morning today to try to set up a new patient appointment. I have tachycardia and have been passing out post-surgery; my cardiologist has now retired. Because of my multiple medical conditions, I am selective in choosing new physicians. Dr. Internist, my physician for the past seven years, highly recommended you, and I trust his recommendation.
However, the office assistant was snappy on the phone this morning, and though she promised to call me back, never did so. She also tried to schedule me for an echocardiogram, although I’m not sure that I need one, especially without an initial consult. Although I left one email last week for an appointment, I phoned this morning since I have to plan phone calls carefully—my neck brace blocks the mouthpiece to the phone and my arm has been giving me too much pain to hold it (and often, to eat or type or read), and I need help positioning myself to use the phone. I am also trying to plan around 12 PT appointments, various meetings I must attend at work in the coming weeks, and events for my children’s school. I must also schedule transportation for each of these since I cannot drive, which leaves others waiting on my schedule as well.
Although certainly I don’t need an urgent appointment, I was putting some of my other scheduling on hold to prioritize the cardiology appointment. I am aware that some offices (such as the specialists at [hospital]) only make new patient appointments every two weeks, but I was not informed if this was your office’s policy; if it is, informing me would have allowed me to proceed with my other scheduling. Honestly, I feel hesitant to call back because of the unwarranted rudeness in tone to me.
I’ve found office staff make a great difference to whether I feel empowered and optimistic about my health care or whether I feel at the mercy of medical institutions and my physical disability. Because you were Dr. Internist's student, and because he (and presumably his students) is concerned about the empathic treatment of people, I wanted to let you know about this situation. However excellent your skills are, I can’t see you if this is typical office practice, and you could also lose other patients. Thanks for your attention to this matter.
[Closing and signature]
Faxed; follow-up by mail