When the truth hurts, trust builds

We got away with a mistake. A baby came in for his first visit. He was 4 days old and had been home for 2 days. And he was yellow. Really yellow. Put a chiquita sticker on that kid yellow. I sent him to the hospital lab to get a bilirubin level drawn (bilirubin is what causes jaundice. At too high of a level brain damage is possible.)

Every other time I have done this I have instructed the parents to call me if they did not hear a result in 2 hours. This time I didn't. When the results came back 2 hours later, my receptionist, instead of notifying me of the lab's phone call telling me the level was very high, just put the lab results in my inbox.

Since we are an electronic office, my paper inbox is the last thing I look at. On this day I rushed to an evening meeting and did not see the results until I came in the next morning. When I saw the results I was worried and upset. Worried because the child had not been treated in 20 hours, upset because I could not believe the lab had not called me. I asked my staff to call the mom every 30 minutes until we got a hold of her so she could take the baby in for treatment.

My receptionist could have remained silent, and allowed the lab to take the blame. I would have never known. While I was blaming myself for not asking the parents to call back, she spoke up and said that it was her fault, that the lab had called and she had not notified me as she should have.

I was touched by her honesty, and her character.

I did not beat her up over the mistake as I was pretty sure she would beat herself up pretty well on her own.

I did wonder how many people would have been as forthright. Telling the truth when the truth has consequences displays character that is all to rare, but it builds trust that endures.

When it was all over I was left with a healthy patient whose bilirubin had normalized and a healthy respect for my receptionist.