Know the Doctor’s Office Staff

At a doctor’s office that I visit frequently, I’m usually waved in without registering, seldom have to wait, and feel like an old friend.  Why?  The front desk staff knows me.

image of receptionist

Using simple communication skills, a patient—you!—can transform a doctor’s office from a cold, sterile place into a welcoming, helpful environment.  One way is to focus on the office staff.

Larrie Pittelko is a registered nurse in Minnesota with extensive experience in physician-patient communication.

Larrie says:

Make friends with the front desk staff.  Learn their names.  Ask questions in a friendly tone.  Remind them of your name.  Be nice, and they will help you—at the front desk or on the phone.  Even if they don’t seem friendly, try!

Why should you bother?  As we observe in our book, communication problems between patients and physicians set up barriers on the road to better health.

And now, with physicians facing ever tougher time pressures, communication problems are growing.  As physician-patient communication expert William Branch MD says, doctors have less time for individual patients.  (Branch is a member of the board of directors of the American Academy on Communication in Healthcare.  He’s quoted in a February 12, 2009, Medscape Today article on “Patient Communication”  by Leslie Kane.)

That’s where the office staff can come in.  Use the staff as an ombudsman—a go-to source for any problem with:

  • billing
  • insurance
  • referrals
  • prescriptions
  • appointments
  • instructions involving drugs or medical advice
  • office procedures, or
  • how and when to contact the office

Further, many doctors rely on the office staff to identify their patients’ common problems, questions, and complaints about how the practice is run.  So, by raising an issue, you might even make an impact on the doctor’s future actions.

In general, the medical office staff is an under-appreciated resource.  Consider results of an unusual field study reported in May 2010 in Health Affairs, the top health policy journal.  There, office staff members were found to be very good at collaborating with each other, handling “a complex assortment of tasks smoothly and calmly.”

When it comes to getting help, “smoothly and calmly” sounds pretty good to me!

Take care.

Photo credit:  Phil Sexton. Attribution

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