Communication Breakdown…My Patient Story – Communication Solutions Series

Posted on November 12, 2015 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Brittany Quemby,  Marketing Manager of Stericycle Communication Solutions as part of the Communication Solutions Series of blog posts. Follow and engage with them on Twitter: @StericycleComms
Brittany Quemby - Stericycle
Recently I booked my annual well-woman exam appointment with my family physician.  I went through my regular rigmarole of calling in several times in the morning as quite often I am disconnected before I even get a ring tone.  When I finally was able to connect with the office, I was put on hold right away.  Unfortunately, this is typical for my doctor’s office, so I was prepared to work at my desk for several minutes until someone could get to my call.

After about 15 minutes, the front staff picked up my call and asked for my details.  I let them know that I would like to book my annual physical with my family physician in the next couple of weeks.  She proceeded to tell me that unfortunately, my family physician could only accommodate me on a Tuesday at 12pm and the next available Tuesday was in 3 weeks.  Admittedly, I was a bit annoyed that it would take me that long to get an appointment and that the only available times were mid-day, but I agreed to the appointment and put the date in my calendar and made plans to be in town in three weeks.  You see, I work in the city, so I have to do some finagling with my schedule to accommodate midweek appointments in town.

Fast forward two and a half weeks, I get a call from my doctor’s office letting me know that unfortunately my doctor was out of town and had to cancel my appointment and it could be rescheduled in another 3 weeks.  A bit annoyed, I agreed to the next appointment and again put the date in my calendar and arranged to be in town that day for my appointment.

It was a week later, when I got another call from the doctor’s office saying that my physician had to cancel all appointments due to an emergency and my appointment would be rescheduled in another 2 weeks.  At this point, I was quite irritated and nearly lost my cool on the phone, but agreed to the next available appointment as I would be traveling the next month for several weeks and wanted to make sure I completed my appointment before then. As I had done before, I made arrangements with work to be in town during the day of my appointment.

By the time my appointment came around, it had been well over two months since I had first made my original call and my appointment had been rescheduled three different days, along with three different times.  The morning of my appointment, I looked in my calendar to double check the time of my appointment.  My calendar noted that it was at 11:30am, however due to the amount of rescheduling, I began to second guess if I had the right date and time.   I also began to wonder if there was anything I needed to do to prep for my appointment.  I had been too concerned during the rescheduling calls to ensure I could get an appointment that I couldn’t remember if I needed to do or bring anything to my appointment.

In an effort to make sure I was prepared, I called my doctor’s office to confirm these details.  When I called the office, I was again put on hold for about 10 minutes. When the front office staff picked up the phone, I asked her to confirm the date, time and details for my appointment.  She confirmed it was that day and it was at 11:00am (not 11:30am) and that I should be prepared to give a urine sample and to have my blood taken.  She also proceeded to tell me that unfortunately, my doctor was called out and he has another doctor covering for him who would do my annual physical.

As I hung up the phone, completely irritated at the turn of events, I couldn’t help but think several things about this entire experience:

  1. Why was it ok to keep someone on hold for over 30 minutes in total to make a single appointment at my doctor’s office?
  2. Why did it take me over two and a half months to actually get this appointment?
  3. Now that I have the appointment, why am I having it with a doctor who I have never met and the only reason I know this is because I called in to verify my appointment information?
  4. Why did I even have to call to ensure I was properly prepared for my appointment?
  5. Is there not a better way?
  6. And, how is my doctor’s office able to function like this daily? Isn’t their schedule a jumbled unpredictable mess, and don’t patients come in unprepared and confused about their appointment times?

As I drove to my appointment, I thought of my massage therapy appointment I had been to just weeks before which was a completely different experience:

  • I booked my appointment online
  • I was able to see all of the open upcoming appointment that were available with my massage therapist
  • Once I confirmed the date and time, I received an email reminder for the date of my appointment with a link to directions and a link to add the appointment to my calendar
  • A few days before my appointment, I got a call from my massage therapist office reminding me of my appointment
  • The day of my appointment, I received a text message reminder that my appointment was only a couple of hours away
  • I arrived on time, prepared and completely satisfied with my experience

I know there has been a lot of discussion recently over whether healthcare organizations should take more of a “customer” “vendor” relationship with their patients. Although, this conversation goes much deeper than just communications, I think when it comes to patient communications we should absolutely start treating patients like customers if that means ensuring that patients have the information about their appointments that they need when they need it. Communication is the foundation of any relationship, whether it be vendor and consumer or provider and patient.

The Communication Solutions Series of blog posts is sponsored by Stericycle Communication Solutions, a leading provider of high quality telephone answering, appointment scheduling, and automated communication services. Stericycle Communication Solutions combines a human touch with innovative technology to deliver best-in-class communication services.  Connect with Stericycle Communication Solutions on social media:  @StericycleComms