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Etiquette column: Nosy patient bothers others in waiting room

Friday, January 31, 2014 - 9:14 am

Q.: Karen, we have a patient who is very nosy. When he comes into our office for appointments he scans the patient sign-in sheet to see who he might know on the list, and he is constantly asking patients in the waiting room why they are seeing the physician. This has happened enough times that we are getting complaints about the man. What is the best way for us to handle this situation in a professional manner?

A.: First of all, consider getting patient sign-in sheets that protect each patient's privacy. They are out there. Patients sign in, their names go on the sheet below and you can then remove the name label on the top sheet and put it on the patient's chart.

Secondly, consider scheduling this patient the first thing in the morning or the first appointment in the afternoon to minimize his contact with other patients in the waiting room.

However, if the complaints continue, I think you are obligated to politely inform him of the complaints. Let him know that because of the importance of patient privacy, it would be better if he did not quiz people about their reason for seeing the physician.

Some other things to keep in mind to help maintain patient privacy:

Be aware of your voice volume when speaking on the phone to patients. Information could be overheard in the waiting room. A good way to check this is to sit in your waiting room and listen to what waiting patients hear.

Put phone nurses in private areas to respond to calls, not in areas where waiting patients could overhear.

Keep the chatter in the halls to a minimum. A lot of conversation in the halls can be heard by patients sitting in exam rooms. Again, go sit in one of your exam rooms with the door closed for a while and listen to what can be heard in the room. And never start asking patients questions until you have them in a room with the door closed.

Place charts in the chart holder with the name facing the wall. This protects the patient's information from being seen by people walking in the halls.

Make sure all directions and follow-up information, such as lab work, prescriptions, diets, etc. are taken care of in the patient room, not at a central desk in the more public areas in your office.

And if you are the patient in the waiting area who is asked about why you are seeing the physician, it's OK to politely say you don't wish to discuss your health issues with strangers. That's a nice way of telling them it's none of their business.

Karen Hickman is a local certified etiquette/protocol consultant and owner of Professional Courtesy. To submit questions, email