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CONTEMPORARY COURTESIES, A COLUMN BY KAREN HICKMAN

Etiquette column: Avoiding the pain of an appointment mix-up

Friday, November 8, 2013 - 8:29 am

Q.: Karen, my husband had an appointment for a follow-up visit with his cardiac surgeon the other day, and when we arrived the person at the desk told us we were not on their schedule. She said we'd have to come back another day. To say the least, we were a little upset since it was quite a distance for us to drive and my husband had been fasting for blood work before being seen. The person at the desk was more interested in letting us know that it wasn't their mistake with no offer of an apology. We knew the physician was there and that our appointment would be a brief one, but we were still turned away. What could we have done differently and should we let the physician know the next time we see him ... if we go back?

A.: One of the hallmarks of good customer service is to be adaptable and accommodating. It is unfortunate that the person at the desk didn't get that memo or understand the role of the patient. The patient is the customer, so to speak, and everyone working in that office would not have a job if it were not for their patients. When and if you go back, I would definitely let the physician know. If the physician doesn't know there is a problem it can't be fixed.

To avoid this happening again, here are a few things patients can do:

•When an appointment is being made for you in person, ask for an appointment card so you can have it available to show the front desk person if need be when you arrive for your next appointment. If the appointment is made over the phone ask for written confirmation to be sent to you via mail or an email.

•Call the day before your appointment to confirm that you are on their books. Mistakes do happen, and electronic scheduling isn't perfect.

•If you are turned away or refused to be seen, ask to speak with the practice manager or a supervisor. Hopefully, he or she will be more accommodating.

•Stay calm, but be firm about wanting to be worked in that day.

For front desk workers, here are a few tips to improve patient relationships:

•Be flexible. Try to work in the patient even if it puts you behind a little bit. Better to be behind a little than have unhappy, disgruntled patients.

•Check with the physician or manager for help handling the situation. Have a policy for dealing with this type of situation.

•Do be apologetic, even if it is not your error. Diplomacy goes a long way.

•Have a system in place for reminder calls to your scheduled patients 24 hours before their appointments. And tell patients to call before their visit if they do not get a reminder call.

Service is the name of the game regardless of what business you are in.

Karen Hickman is a local certified etiquette/protocol consultant and owner of Professional Courtesy. To submit questions, email features@news-sentinel.com.