Friday, May 19, 2006

Why are you here?

I’ve been going through a flurry of routine medical checkups—physical, mammogram, and pap test—and I find that I am not equipped to deal with the medical establishment. I don’t understand their rules. I don’t understand their approach—in fact I am offended when the first question is “Why are you here?”

“I’m here for a physical,” I replied.

“No, you’re not,” countered the nurse. “You only have a fifteen minute appointment.”

Not even testy yet, I said I was quite certain that I had scheduled a physical, and eventually—after reading me far too much of another Karen’s chart—the nurse realized that not only was I there for the wrong reason, but I was the wrong person altogether. I was directed to go back out to the waiting room and fix that.


After I was called back for a second look on the mammogram, another nurse greeted me—without actually looking at me—with “Why are you here?”

“Because you called me back. Surely that is in your records.” By now I was getting testy.

Yesterday the routine pap test. “Why are you here? Did you want a pap test or a full physical?”

“Well, your office called me to say it was time for a routine pap test, and that’s what we scheduled, so I guess that’s why I am here.”

Since when do physicians attempt to up-sell? And if you’re going to pursue that revenue enhancement strategy, you might want to do it on the phone at appointment time, not when I have blocked time for a simple pap test. Not that I wanted a physical.

“Have you ever had a negative pap test? Are you still having periods?”

“Gosh, I think that information must be in my file, since I have been coming here for four years.”

This is the second time I have had this experience with the same nurse. I would change doctors, but it appears that it is standard practice in my town to greet a patient not with “Good afternoon, Karen. I see you are here for your test. I’ve taken a look at your file and this seems to be routine. Do you have any questions?” but with an abrupt and disorganized “Why are you here?”

Speaking as only one patient who—thank heaven!—does not see a lot of the medical community, I find this greeting disrespectful.

Perhaps there is something about the medical community that I do not understand. Perhaps I am oversensitive—well, actually, I am. Perhaps it is that I spend a lot of time trying to create an environment of acceptance for the clients who walk into my office for business advice. I just know I would never use such a blunt greeting. People looking for help with their businesses are a little vulnerable, and they need to be encouraged that it is okay to ask for help and that help will be forthcoming. Are patients that different?

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