Don't want to wait any longer
September 12, 2011 11:42 AM   Subscribe

What is appropriate etiquette for criticising a doctor's secretarial staff?

I’ve been having a bunch of issues with my ParaGard in the past few weeks that have led me to the decision that it needs to come out ASAP. Anyway, the insertion was a BIG PAINFUL DEAL, took two tries and I had all sorts of problems, so I wanted to get an appointment relatively quickly, knowing that it would probably just be a consultation before the procedure to get it out.

Anyhow, I went online to get my doctor’s phone number, and found the ZocDoc website that schedules appointments for him. Super. Except, I get a call from the doctor himself (when my phone was off, unfortunately), stating that the ZocDoc website doesn’t have any real appointments, and I should call his office to set up an appointment.

Fast forward to last Monday. I call the office. The woman who picks up the phone after 12 rings states that the secretary for my doctor is on vacation for a week, and didn’t teach her how to make appointments. *grar*

Fast forward to today. I’ve called twice so far. Both times, the phone rang 12-15 times, followed by a “doctor’s office, please hold”, and then 15 minutes of silence both times before I gave up and hung up.

Assuming I ever actually get in touch with my doctor for this pretty urgent but not emergent issue, is it completely inappropriate to complain about the complete chaos of his office?
posted by roomthreeseventeen to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Speaking as someone who has recently had a similar, though much worse problem with our pediatrician's office staff, AND as someone who has worked with an office staff as a healthcare provider, write a business letter outlining the nature of your complaint and send it directly to the doctor, cc'ed to the office manager. If you have a request related to the complaint, like a suggestion for change, include that as well.

This, typically, gets an excellent and fast response. If it doesn't, the practice believes that it's customer service is sufficient, and so you can follow up with a note that you are moving on, and why.
posted by rumposinc at 11:48 AM on September 12, 2011 [4 favorites]

Get the receptionist to tell the doctor to call you back ASAP, then make your appointment with him directly and/or give him an earful.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:51 AM on September 12, 2011

I don't know if you have a partner, but when I've run into this in the past I've sometimes had my husband call -- he's not, at that moment, as wound up as I am, so he can be more firm, more calm, and more persistent than I feel able to be. Plus, I fear looking like a problem if I complain too much, whereas since he's not the patient, he's not a "problem patient." (Plus he can play it off as, "My wife is very upset about this ..." and people are pretty forgiving about a spouse going to bat for an upset spouse.)

(This isn't gendered, btw; I do the same for him when he's in pain/stressed/can't deal with how frustrating the orthopedist's office can be when his broken shoulder is agonizing ...)

You could also possibly have a friend do this for you.

You should definitely write a letter, as rumposinc says, but for more immediate attention you can try having YOUR support staff call THEIR support staff. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:56 AM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Of course it is appropriate to complain! The doctor needs to know that he could be losing patients because of his office staff.

If you can go in person to the doctor's office, that's your best bet. You can make an appointment in person instead of getting hung up on. The "I don't know how to make an appointment," by the way, is a stupid excuse! The temp has to at least be able to tell who has already been scheduled in order to do her job and pull the charts each day. So, if she can view existing appointments, she could just tell you an open date and time, then just write a note for the regular employee saying, "This date was open, so I told roomthreeseventeen to come in at this time, can you please put her in the system"?

Anyway, even if the temp is there, you should be able to get scheduled if you show up in person, and after you have taken care of that, you should ask to speak to the doctor personally, either at the office or over the phone--give him a time to call when you know you can answer the phone!

That's the appropriate way to complain, to the doctor.

If you can't go there in person, you can complain to your insurance company about the doctor's office, and sometimes they will intercede for you.

And you might think about changing doctors if this kind of thing continues.
posted by misha at 11:56 AM on September 12, 2011

is it completely inappropriate to complain about the complete chaos of his office?

Absolutely not inappropriate. After all, who's to say they're not mismanaging the emergency calls too?

(I had a doctor's office put me on hold for fifteen minutes after I'd called and clearly said "I'm having chest pains." Fortunately the secretary sitting next to me was the daughter of a cardiologist and figured out I just had heartburn -- so I stayed on hold and made a formal complaint about the office staff when I finally got through. Things improved greatly in the office after that.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:58 AM on September 12, 2011

I would send a business-like letter via snail mail. Let him know that those things are unacceptable to you. If you like him/her, let the doctor know that, and that the situation could be costing him patients. Then, if it isn't fixed, find a new doctor.
posted by Hylas at 12:02 PM on September 12, 2011

I think you should show up in person ASAP to make the appointment, and then speak with the doctor about the staff situation during the appointment.
posted by hermitosis at 12:36 PM on September 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

In my experience, the attitude / effectiveness / abilities of the medical office staff directly mirror those of the physician(s). The staff act that way because they are allowed (if not encouraged) to act that way. I have changed physicians simply on the basis of rude / indifferent treatment by his staff (whom he apparently hired from the DMV counter rejects). I didn't bother to tell him I was leaving. I have more important things to do than to waste my time on a fruitless effort to get him to run his practice better. It's more effective to vote with my feet.
posted by charris5005 at 1:02 PM on September 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Given that the doctor himself has called you regarding administrative details, he may be fully aware that his office isn't running very well with temporary staff. There may not be anything he can do except look fondly forward to the regular person's return and continue to try to handle what he can in between patient consults and doing his own job, etc.

If going in there is at all convenient for you, that's probably the best way to get a correct appointment right now. You can let him know at that appointment what your experience has been, but a letter with dates/times and all the rest of your documentation might be actually useful to them in terms of preventing this from happening the next time they need a temp.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:30 PM on September 12, 2011

If your doctor is part of an HMO, I've found it very helpful to contact the Patient Advocate and ask for assistance.
posted by elsietheeel at 1:44 PM on September 12, 2011

Write the doctor and the office manager. I had a good doctor with a chaotic office once and I asked my dad (also a doctor) what to do and that was his advice. He said a doctor, especially in a large group practice, will be understand & deal withe office problems faster and better when patients tell him/her. Speak up and you will do your doc a favor!
posted by pointystick at 2:17 PM on September 12, 2011

I've done this. I told my doctor I had a terrible time getting through, and suggested they check the phone system. Your doctor doesn't call the office; they'll likely be glad to learn of this, so it can be fixed. Approach it that way, anyway.
posted by theora55 at 4:23 PM on September 12, 2011

If a complaint isn't well received, think about taking your business elsewhere.

My very excellent GP not only does email on a regular basis, but responds to email sent to him very quickly. You don't have to up with absent office staff and an online scheduling appointment that "doesn't actually have appointments."

Don't worry about the "appropriate" way to complain. As long as you're polite and civil there's nothing inappropriate about a complaint by phone or by letter, just be sure it reaches the doctor, and doesn't stop with the crummy staff. Maybe you could discuss it with your doctor when you see him, and hand him a nice note detailing the complaint.
posted by thelastcamel at 6:30 PM on September 12, 2011

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