High quality patient experience is becoming more and more important to the profitability (and sustainability) of healthcare practices. But the patient experience not always fully in your control, take scheduling a surgery on short notice, for example. The following is a story of how seven words unlocked the secret to better hospital relations for our author’s private surgical practice.
Just another day of emergency surgical patients
It was a late Wednesday morning. I was on the phone with the hospital doing my best to get a patient scheduled for emergency surgery the following Friday. The problem was, the following Friday was the Friday before a holiday weekend.
I had worked diligently to get the young healthy patient who had a lacerated nerve to their right thumb in for pre-op testing immediately following our consult that Wednesday morning, medical clearance with their PMD on Thursday, now my last hurdle was getting the Operating Room (OR) surgical schedulers to allow my surgeon to book this case on Friday. I knew there was time available on the OR schedule, however the surgical scheduler on the phone refused to grant my surgeon OR time.
Pulling “The doctor card”
As a secretary, there are times that you can only do so much before you have to pull “The doctor card”. This is when you tell the surgical scheduler that your surgeon wants to speak to them.
My poor surgeon. He was exhausted from call the previous night, hungry, and just wanted to dictate before starting the afternoon patients. We went without lunch, again, as we had squeezed in the aforementioned lacerated thumb patient as an ADDON (Day of Appointment Emergency Patient).
The seven words that unlocked the secret to better hospital relations
I handed Dr. X the phone and what happened next changed the way we did business. He took the phone, sighed, and calmly stated “This is Dr. X, why won’t you let me help people?”
I could hear the surgical scheduler on the other line launch into a cacophony of excuses and red tape pretext. The scheduler was sputtering evasive phrases we’ve all heard before while trying to keep a caseload down before a holiday weekend. But rather than get mad, angry, or yell like I’d witnessed so many other orthopedic surgeons do, my surgeon chose this different approach:
Dr. X would listen to the surgical scheduler finish her sentence, wait a beat, then would calmly ask:
“Why won’t you let me help people?”.
He proceeded to use this response to everything that the surgical scheduler said.
On and on it went. The surgical scheduler would cite an excuse, Dr. X would listen, wait a beat, then ask his question.
At first I thought this repeating phrase was weird, (as I fully just expected him to chew out the person on the other end of the phone for disobeying a surgeon’s direct order), then it became peculiar due to the almost psychotic nature to having a phrase repeated again and again with different levels of questioning inflection.
Next, it’s brilliance struck me. Finally, the melodic re-use of the phrase it became HILARIOUS.
So innocent and honest a question. “Why won’t you let me help people?” His tone wasn’t condescending, but simply calm and inquisitive, similar to that of an older toddler who endlessly asks “Because Why?”.
Getting the job done, with humor over hostility
Within minutes, I could hear laughter on the other end of the phone as the medical scheduler conceded to his ridiculous line of questioning, and told him she would speak with her supervisor and find him a spot, and would call us back. He hung up the phone and I burst out laughing.
“Why won’t you let me help people?” The positive long term effects.
The upside? Whenever I spoke to that medical scheduler again in the future and had to get something done, I rarely had to pull “the doctor card” ever again. The other scheduler knew if I had to get something scheduled and had reasonably prepared the patient and called with more than a day’s notice, she’d rather take the extra time to talk to her supervisor before shooting our request down. Anything to avoid another Dr. X’s palilalia of the phrase “Why won’t you let me help people?”.
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