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Why I Fired My Doctor (and Went to Her Competitor)

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

40 minute wait time displayed on animated clockA professional colleague provided this first-person experience and the reasons he fired the doctor. We’ll cloak the identities involved, but here’s what went wrong—and how the problem could have been avoided.

“The physician that I had been seeing was leaving the practice, and an alternative specialist was recommended. Two weeks later I was present for an appointment…the second patient to be seen that morning. I was shown to an exam room by a technical assistant who took some minor notes and left me to wait for the doctor.

“After about 15 minutes alone, I asked the front desk about the delay. ‘She’s coming,’ I was told, so I was willing to be patient. Later I learned that the average time a person waits for a doctor is 18 minutes and 35 seconds. [Vitals study]  

“At the 30-minute mark, I looked to the front desk for an explanation (and perhaps a small apology). Instead, the staff person just laughed and excused it all by saying: ‘Oh, she’s always late.” I replied that being late, with no concern for other patients, was rude at best and that patients should not be an interruption.

“After 40 minutes of wait time alone in the exam room, I left—and made an appointment with another specialist practice up the street.”

Fire the doctor or fix the problem…

Consumer studies reveal that an extended wait draws down on patient satisfaction and increases the likelihood of a poor-to-bad rating. Consequently, one patient “fires the doctor,” never to return. Plus, online reviews and comments drive prospective patients to competitive practices. Additionally, patients are likely to feel that long waiting periods mean:

  • A doctor who can’t manage the clock can’t manage a patient’s health
  • The physician doesn’t respect the patient or the patient’s time
  • This and other aspects of the practice are poorly managed
  • It’s permissible to waste patients’ time

Perhaps it’s surprising, but most patient dissatisfaction (about 96 percent in one study) cited poor communications, wait times and disorganized operations. And that was the situation with our colleague’s experience. Several simple steps probably could have saved the day:

An explanation (almost any explanation) for the patient. The patient was expected to wait (alone) for the doctor without being offered a reason for the delay or an alternative. To explain, “Oh, she’s always late,” implies that the doctor is rude with everyone. Pointing blame signals poor staff training.

An apology from the doctor. Any extended delay erodes the doctor/patient relationship. In this instance, a simple, brief “sorry” from doctor to patient would have erased a lot of bad feelings. And, if the delay was to continue, perhaps a few words would win understanding, forgiveness and even more time.

This particular doctor lost at least one patient in this encounter. The extended delay might have been for a good and valid reason, or perhaps the doctor and/or staff are muddled or inept. We don't know. But bad reviews—and driving patients to the competition—are rarely about clinical skills. Thus, problems like this are easily avoided or easily cured.

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