Through the Eyes of a Receptionist

As some of you know, I work as an admin assistant/receptionist at a radiation oncology cancer clinic. One day while I was at work, I wrote down a number of observations and thoughts that I have during the day when it comes to patients and etiquette and expectations – of course I can’t say them out loud, but I think them.

If you visit medical centers often and want to know what we on the other side of the desk are thinking, read on. Hell, if you’re bored, read on. If not, excuse my daily rambling.

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1) If I answer your call and politely ask, “Do you mind holding for a moment, please?” it is not a question. It is a request. If I ever have to put you on hold, it is because I have four other calls coming in and I need to deal with them. Please do not say, “Oh, I just wanted—” No. I’ll be with you in a moment. If it is an emergency, please dial 911, not me.

2) We take schedules very, very seriously. Do not believe the crap that other doctor offices tell you when you have been waiting in their rooms for an hour and a half without explanation. At our offices, we get patients in and out within fifteen minutes of their appointment times, and if there is a delay, we tell you or call you in advance so you know to come later. Don’t take anything less from anyone else.

3) Don’t get mad at us when you come in ten minutes late for your appointment and we want you to fill out new patient paperwork. You had plenty of time to fill it out beforehand because you could have downloaded it through our website or had us email, fax, or mail it to you. Yes, we will treat the other patient who was here ahead of you before we get to you. Yes, we do need to know what surgeries you’ve had recently and we need to know all your current symptoms because the nurses will not come out and get you until they have that information in their hands. I know you’re upset and you’re going through a lot, but we’re ensuring the better quality of your care by requesting that paperwork.

4) Tell us if there is not any more coffee in the waiting area. We usually keep on top of it, but sometimes we run out. We like it when you drink our coffee.

5) If I answer the phone and you are a sales agent requesting to speak to a doctor – not our practice manager, but a DOCTOR – God help you and have mercy on your soul. If you ever ask me personally if I am currently happy with my insurance, I will hang up on you. God help you if you call back.

6) Do not call during the day and expect to speak to your doctor. 11 times out of 10, your doctor is either in a room with a patient, in a procedure, on the phone, in a meeting, doing dictations, speaking with nurse, or consulting patients out of the office at a hospital. Your question can be answered by their medical assistants, and in the very rare circumstance that it can’t, the MA will flag down your doctor and find out for you. And furthermore, we are not allowed to transfer calls directly to doctors. They run our clinic and if they’re unhappy with us, we suffer.

7) Receptionists and admin assistants and financial counselors want to do everything we can to help you, but if you start asking us medical questions, we have no idea what to tell you and we feel bad when we say we have no idea what to tell you. Talk to your nurse instead when it comes to that, not us.

8) Our doctors are among the best radiation oncologists, if not THE best, in the entire nation. They book up fast. As far as follow-ups go, one in particular is booked solid through May of 2013. Please do not expect us to pull strings to get you in at precisely the time and date you want. We do our best and stay late and come early to accommodate everyone we can, but sometimes we’re just booked and there’s nothing we can do. Furthermore, please don’t tell us that you have brunch with friends scheduled for the one day your doctor is available to see you during your follow up week and can’t make it. Your health is more important than social outings.

9) We love it when you take candy from the jar on our front desk. It makes us happy to see you let yourself enjoy a tiny piece of chocolate for the day.

10) We do not expect you to pay for your treatment upfront. We have a variety of ways you can make small payments each week or each month or whatever, and we let you choose how much you want to pay toward your balance. However, when we call to ask how you what you would like to pay this month, please don’t tell us you just lost your second home in Scottsdale and can only afford to go to Italy twice this year and therefore are financially struggling and can’t cough up $25 for your monthly payment.

11) We love talking to your spouses and your sisters and your friends while you’re in treatment and they’re with us in the waiting room, we really do. But sometimes forty-five minutes of conversation while we’re desperately trying to handle calls and check in other patients and scan charts at the same time is a bit much. A few minutes are fine, but not forty-five.

12) We care about you more than you’ll ever know. Trust me – there is nothing worse, nothing more sad and shocking, than when I am scanning in paperwork and I go to your chart in our database and see a confirmed death date in blazing red across your page. Sometimes, after talking and laughing with you the other day, I forget why you’re in our office in the first place.

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