Edie Brous
Nurse Attorney
118 East 28th Street
Room 404
New York, NY 10016
Tel. (212) 989-5469
Fax. (646) 349-5355
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 Physicians, dentists, surgeons, nurse practitioners or others in private practice cannot reduce their liability exposure by addressing individual performance alone. A critical missing link in understanding what makes patients angry or upset enough to go to a lawyer is an understanding of the overall experience patients have with a practice. Before the patient ever sees you, the provider, that patient interacts with your office staff. In an outpatient setting, the office staff is the front door of your business. 
Your receptionists, office managers, or others, provide the initial contact the patient has with you. They create the first impression the patient has with you. They are generally the last contact at an office visit and create the final impression the patient has with you.  The office staff represents you.  If the staff is professional, friendly, welcoming, supportive, and comforting, the patient thinks well of you before even meeting you.  On the other hand, if the staff is aloof, indifferent,  inefficient, or behaving unprofessionally, the patient thinks poorly of you before even meeting you.
Office staff who loudly conduct personal conversations, who don’t smile or make eye contact with patients, who chomp on gum, or who are unpleasant, create a permanent bad impression. Things that might not normally bother people do bother them when they are in pain, nauseated, worried about money, or frightened. Things that might seem trivial are not perceived that way by a patient in the waiting room.  Short delays seem longer. Sounds seem louder. Tones seem harsher. When appointments are mismanaged, phone calls are not returned, messages are not communicated, and the staff seems distracted or preoccupied, rather than engaged, patient satisfaction suffers, regardless of your personal clinical performance.
I have decided to change eye doctors even though I have a very positive experience with the doctor himself and trust him clinically. Recently, however, his office patient liaison left and the practice itself has lost my trust. The person who looked up from the desk to recognize that I had entered the office has gone and no one has replaced her. The person who smiled and made me feel welcome was the only one in the practice to do so.  Calls now are not returned, problems are not followed up on, everything is confusion and chaos, and it is a frustrating experience to deal with the office.  That one person made the difference and now that she is gone, so am I.
I also recently had to see my oral surgeon.  I have not been in his office since 2014 but when I called for an appointment because I was in pain, the staff remembered me, was pleasant, concerned about my pain, and scheduled me for an appointment immediately. While waiting for the appointment, the pain got worse and I knew my gum was infected. My surgeon was out of the office but the staff immediately paged him, got an order for antibiotics called into my pharmacy, and followed up to see if I had filled it and if I was feeling any better.  When I arrived for the appointment I was greeted warmly by staff who remembered how frightened I am of dental work and did everything humanly possible to make me feel safe.
The experience with both of the doctors is similar.  These are both skilled providers in whom I have complete clinical confidence. I will not return to the eye doctor because of his practice management and office staff.  My oral surgeon, however, has been told that he cannot retire until I am dead.
From a risk management standpoint, take a look at the experience your patients have in your office before and after seeing you. Make sure your staff has the resources, training, and support they need to do their customer service jobs effectively. Hire and maintain office staff who are the right fit for your patients. Doing so can go a long way toward keeping your patients away from lawyers.
Bar Admissions:
  • New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania
  • Southern and Eastern Districts New York Federal Courts
  • United States Supreme Court
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This newsletter is intended to provide general information for educational purposes only.  It does not serve as a substitute for legal advice.  If you need legal assistance engage the services of an attorney in your state.  Subscription to this newsletter does not create an attorney/client relationship.
Copyright © 2017, Edie Brous, RN, Esq.