A Big Mistake in a Doctor's Office

My office was blowing it. I didn’t know it until just this week, but we had a serious customer service problem. Patients were having their phone messages and questions ignored. They called the office with a question, need or request, and the person taking the call was not consistently entering the message into the chart or writing it down. I missed the early warning signs (a few patients told me personally they had left a message that was not returned but I thought it was a voice mail issue) so by the time the problem was discovered it had been going on for a while. As it was only a few times a day and not all patients complained it took weeks before there were enough cases for me to recognize the issue. By that time we became aware of at least 15 patients who had been slighted or ignored, there may have been more. Something needed to be done.

Dealing with the employee in question was straightforward. When someone fails in one of their position's foundational tasks on a repeated basis (apparently after being counseled by other employees) a change is in order. After dealing with the disciplinary issue I faced a bigger challenge. How could I fix the problem? I worried that the cases I had discovered were just the tip of the iceberg. What if there were dozens of overlooked patients? Customer service is key to my reputation and I pondered what I could do to rebuild lost trust.

I decided to reach out to patients and address the problem. I sent a mass message to all of the patients on our email list, over 2500. I described the issue, told them that I had just been made aware of the problem and that if they had left a message and not received a response to let me know. I shared our policy that all calls should be returned same day and all emails within 24 hours, and I asked that they notify me if we fail to meet that standard in the future. Within a few hours the replies started pouring in. There were a few who were letting me know of a failure to receive a response but the vast majority said something unexpected. The majority of the messages said, “Thank You!”

It seemed that my openness and honesty about the problem and quick action to address it had made an impression on my patients. One patient who is a business consultant wrote, “Way to own it.” Another hotel manager praised our “great customer service.” All of them appreciated our efforts to make things right. To date I have not received a single negative response.

The gracious responses received remind me of the importance of honesty in everyday relationships. Nobody is perfect and everybody knows it, so mistakes are to be expected. It is how we respond to our mistakes that defines our character. There is a tendency to cover up and hide and explain things away but that path does not lead to success in the long term. The gracious responses of my patients remind me that honesty is truly the best policy.

-          Bart