How are you treated when you enter the healthcare system? do you feel like you are the reason the receptionist has a job- or an imposition because you are interrupting conversations with coworkers? Are you warmly greeted or ignored? How does how you are greeted affect your perception of the quatity of care?
One of my friends (Sara*) told me she ran into trouble on a substitute teaching job. It seemed the teacher disliked Sara based on her initial impression, and requested that Sara not return to the school. Sara was devastated and showed me a letter she wrote expressing concern about this comment. She asked my advice on what she should do.
The expression, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” applies to all aspects of life. It applies to the patient who approaches the crowded check in desk of the busy emergency department. Do healthcare providers remember the patient may be scared, in pain, hungry or confused?
Have you ever felt like a diagnosis instead of a patient? In August 1996, my husband had a colonoscopy that revealed a large colon cancer. He was sent with a requisition form directly to the x-ray department to have a barium enema. The requisition form’s diagnosis stated “colon CA”. I sat next to my stunned husband; we had only a few minutes to absorb the news of his diagnosis. There was a technician responsible for getting him into the waiting area of the radiology department. One of her colleague asked her if she was ready to go to lunch. She called out, “No, I have to do a CA patient now.” I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach as I now realized my husband was branded as a CA patient.
None of these first impressions are cause for a medical malpractice suit but they set up a climate. An opportunity for establishing a caring environment is lost. If any mistake is made that causes harm, there are no credits in the bank- no kindly feelings towards the healthcare provider.
I advised Sara to make two copies of her letter and go to the school to express her concern about what had happened with the teacher. She learned, to her gratitude, that there were many positive comments in her file. She had made positive first impressions on lots of other teachers. What started as a negative experience turned into an opportunity for her to become of aware of how highly others regarded her.
* name changed
If you feel brushed off or ignored, speak up. You have a right to care. You have a right to respect. Claim it.