The Invisible Patient

Sept. 1, 1999
It was Tuesday and my first afternoon patient had just arrived. As she was seated, she said, "My God, what a relief!" "Rough day?" "You have no idea. I just went ballistic at the cardiology office!"

Randolph K. Shoup, DDS

It was Tuesday and my first afternoon patient had just arrived. As she was seated, she said, "My God, what a relief!" "Rough day?" "You have no idea. I just went ballistic at the cardiology office!"

My patient explained that this was her third trip to this large cardiology group for a routine checkup. Trip number one was to talk to the doctor. Trip number two was to have the tests. Trip number three was to discuss the results.

At each visit, she waited over an hour before being seen. Trip number three, the ballistic day, was notable because the office team forgot she was there. When the oversight was realized, the office staff member came out and said, "Oh, I see you are done with your forms now," implying she had been waiting on my patient`s slothful paperwork. The staff member`s choice of words triggered the ballistic explosion.

From the outset of this series of appointments, my patient had indicated that she was paying in cash even though she had insurance. She was asked to fill out her insurance papers, and she restated this was a cash transaction. "Yes, they knew this, but it was policy."

You probably have guessed "the rest of the story." Her insurance was billed and payment sent to the cardiology group. Now her insurance wants to know about her new heart condition, which does not exist. My patient also was informed that her refund would be processed "in a couple of weeks."

After my patient spun this tale of horror, we both laughed and agreed that her cardiologist did more damage from the stress and increased blood pressure than if she had stayed home.

Believe it or not, she actually relaxed in my office, and her blood pressure went back to normal. Why was she able to regain her composure in a normally stressful setting? For years, we have seen her as a person with a name and a face. We know her. She is not invisible!

A professional practice of any type can learn much from my patient. The delivery of any service can be either systems-driven or patient-driven.

The systems-driven model requires everyone to conform to the processes of the practice. For example: you always have to sign in; you must bring your insurance card; you must make multiple trips for exams and tests.

Systems are created for the convenience of the business. Efficiency, cost-containment, and conformity to software programs that work only one way are the hallmarks of systems. The most common phrase heard in a systems-run practice is, "It`s our policy."

Systems-based practices are very similar to manufacturing or retail models. The goal is to deliver the product of service as inexpensively and efficiently as possible.

Patient-driven practices strive to deliver optimal service based on each patient`s needs. The procedures are flexible and systems are all adapted and transformed to accommodate each individual. The most commonly heard phrase is, "How may we serve your wants?" As service and value are increased, the issue of money decreases.

Patient-driven practices generally are higher-revenue practices. The patients are allowed to choose what they want instead of being confined to a systems box. The more free individuals are to select, the more likely that they will select what is in their own best interests.

The August issue of Success Magazine has a feature titled, "In the Comfort Zone, Some of America`s Hottest Companies Prosper by Treating Customers Like Precious Jewels." Professionals can learn much from outstanding customer-service mavins.

Some professionals may believe that their hands are tied to the status quo. Many feel that customer-service techniques do not apply to them. The professional who believes this will create his own reality and it will become a reality that is a true reflection of this belief.

Other professionals accept that they can become a patient-service-oriented practice. Increasing numbers of a variety of professionals believe they can create a reality outside the traditional box.

Allow your patients to have a wow experience in your office and watch the wonderful benefits flow in. In contrast, think about the last statement my patient made as she was leaving my office. "I`m still so mad at that office, I`m telling everyone I know never to go there!"