When the Customer Is Wrong: Hospitals

  • Pet Peeves

    It’s one of the oldest adages of the retail world: “The customer is always right.” Of course, very often the customer is wrong. Every day customers behave in ways that make the lives of waiters, cashiers, customer service reps and other workers miserable. And in many cases, these customers don’t even realize how much trouble they’re causing. To rectify this, we’ve decided to talk to the people on the other side of the desk, with the hope of educating consumers on what sort of behavior makes life difficult for the people serving them. In the first part of the series we spoke to people in the restaurant industry, in part two we asked hotel workers how to be a responsible guest, and in part three we found out what gets on flight attendants’ nerves. Now we’ve reached out to nurses and doctor to find out what sort of patient behavior makes it hard for them to do their job and help you get healthy. Photo Credit: Getty Images
    Antibiotics Are Not a Miracle Cure
  • Antibiotics Are Not a Miracle Cure

    Antibiotics like penicillin revolutionized medicine, making ailments like pneumonia and syphilis treatable. But that doesn’t mean they’re wonder drugs capable of curing any illness – a fact that’s lost on many patients. “I’ll tell someone that they have a virus and that they just have to wait it out because there’s no medicine I can give them, and they’ll argue with me for antibiotics,” says Jill Silver de Castro, a nurse practitioner. “They’ll say, ‘I don’t have time to be sick, just give me an antibiotic.’” Besides the fact that antibiotics don’t work for viral infections like the common cold, there’s also the issue of antibiotic resistance, in which overuse and improper use of antibiotics causes the rise of infections that can’t be fought with antibiotics. So not only will taking Zithromax have no impact on your cold, it could also have long-term implications for your health. Photo Credit: Thirteen of Clubs
    Don’t Wait to Get a Refill
  • Don’t Wait to Get a Refill

    “Some people wait until the last minute to get a refill, then call to say they’re out of medicine and need a refill by the end of the day,” says de Castro, who works at a private practice specializing in urgent and primary care. “We are so busy, and that means taking time away from taking care of a patient.” In general, your doctor or nurse practitioner won’t have any trouble refilling your prescription as long you give two or three days’ notice, but waiting until the last minute makes their lives really difficult. Plus, if you’re on a medication that’s crucial to your health (like, say, a cholesterol medication), why would you wait until you’re out of pills to request a refill? Photo Credit: Getty Images
    Listen Carefully
  • Listen Carefully

    One of the big issues in medicine is doctors who don’t take the time to listen to a patient’s concerns and medical history, and thereby miss out on crucial information. But the flipside to that is patients who don’t listen to the questions that doctors are asking them, often because they don’t realize how crucial those questions are to forming a complete diagnosis. “I’m asking questions for an important reason,” says Dr. Jim Suel, an emergency room doctor based in Boston. “These questions are like a blood test – sometimes these very simple questions are tests that give us very important info. So it’s very important that you try to answer them correctly.” In other words, don’t think that the doctor is just making conversation or checking off boxes – he or she is trying to diagnose you. For your sake, listen to the questions and answer as best you can. Photo Credit: Getty Images
    In Tests We Trust?
  • In Tests We Trust?

    Just as some patients tend to undervalue the doctor’s questions as a diagnostic tool, they likewise tend to overvalue the importance of tests like CT scans, says Suel. “There’s this sense with some patients that you’re humoring them or wasting their time with questions, when they just want to get down to business and do six tests,” he says. “But the tests are imperfect, and there are false positives and negatives … I’ve had heart attack patients that had normal labs.” If a doctor seems reluctant to run a battery of tests right off the bat, remember he or she is not just trying to save the hospital some money. Conversely, if the emergency room doctor wants to admit you to the hospital despite all the test results coming back negative, it’s probably best to trust the doctor’s judgment. Photo Credit: Getty Images
    Be Honest
  • Be Honest

    Not only do patients tend to undervalue the importance of a doctor’s questions, sometimes they’re also less inclined to be truthful. Needless to say, that’s going to make it very difficult to get you better. “Some patients don’t give you the whole story – they just want to tell you what they want you to know,” says Gail Healey, an urgent care nurse with more than 30 years of experience. “They've been vomiting for two days, but they fail to mention that they've been drinking heavily.” She says that this lack of disclosure is sometimes deliberate, and sometimes out of ignorance. In either case, it can be seriously harmful to your health. Photo Credit: Getty Images
    The ER is Only for Emergencies
  • The ER is Only for Emergencies

    Obviously you should go to the emergency room if you think that you’re having a medical emergency. But those who work there wish that some patients would adjust what they consider an emergency situation; Healey notes that having nausea and vomiting for only a day, or minor aches and pains for the same amount of time, usually isn’t cause to head to the ER. “I wish we could have more time to teach patients when they come in,” she says. “I’ll say, ‘It’s not unusual for babies to run fevers, and it’s better to try this or this at home.’” But some people get offended and say, “You just don’t want to see me.” Likewise, another common complaint from ER doctors and nurses is patients who come in with multiple issues that have been bothering them for months. “[We’ll have patients who] haven’t been seen in a really long time, and come in to urgent care with a laundry list of issues,” says de Castro. “It takes a lot of time, and I wouldn’t be doing my job appropriately if I didn’t take time for each issue.” In these situations, it’s best to make an appointment with your primary care physician, assuming you have one. You’ll have his or her undivided attention, and can bring up as many complaints as you like. Photo Credit: Getty Images
    The WebMD Factor
  • The WebMD Factor

    Many patients will come in having self-diagnosed using Internet sources like WebMD, but health care professionals have mixed feelings about such situations. “I seldom feel that I’m in such a hurry that I can’t engage a patient on their terms and answer their questions and honor their efforts to be an informed patient,” says Suel. “I think it’s great that patients want to go to that trouble, and I think that’s a valuable and worthwhile goal to be pursuing.” But there’s a right way and wrong way to go about it, and you shouldn’t get the idea that a Google search somehow trumps a physician’s years of schooling and experience. “A patient will say, ‘I looked it up on the Internet and this is what I found,'” recounts Healey. “And if the doctor disagrees with them, they get angry, like the Internet knows better than the doctor.” Photo Credit: webmd.com
    Be Patient
  • Be Patient

    Perhaps the worst thing about visiting an emergency room is the wait time – patients can sit in the waiting room for hours before they get to see a doctor, especially if their complaint is a minor one. Those who work there understand their frustration over this state of affairs, but also wish the patients could understand the triage system and the constraints they’re working under. “We only have so many beds, and we'd double bunk if we could,” says Healey. “We will get to everybody as soon as we can, but we have to treat the sickest first.” Yelling at the receptionist won’t make the doctors in the back treat patients any faster. And don’t lie or exaggerate your symptoms to get seen more quickly – if your “chest pain” suddenly becomes a sore toe once you’re admitted, you’ll find yourself deposited back in the waiting room. Photo Credit: Getty Images
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