February 26, 2009
Lufkin Daily News
LETTER: In praise of customer service
By Ronald M. Tolls, MD FACS Colonel, MC, US Army (Ret)
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Is courteous customer service a thing of the past? With cashiers who can check you out of a grocery store without as much as a greeting, others at checkout seemingly absorbed in banter with the clerk in the next line, the fast food window where the attendant apparently is not listening, or office receptionists who seem bothered that you showed up, particularly as it approaches their lunch break. Some fear that with the impending socialized medicine customer service will reach a new low.
Yet patients perceive that physicians are somehow responsible for the smooth functioning of ancillary services, as though he were still captain of the ship. A caring physician must not only be competent and upbeat, but run interference as the patient advocate, apologizing for the series of glitches the patient encounters. My first visit at the Lufkin VA Clinic was a most satisfying experience, a glimmer of hope, demonstrating that socialized medicine can be efficient, caring, and competent. My visit was preceded by courteous phone calls reminding me of the procedures and offering directions. The receptionist was upbeat, friendly and quickly pulled up my medical record. The facility was bright, clean and orderly. Likewise the laboratory technician was friendly, identified quickly what the physician had ordered, and collected specimens expeditiously.
A clinical nurse's review of my records and written summary for the physician was not robotic, but indicative that she had a working knowledge of the information being related. Some 45 minutes after stopping at the laboratory, my physician already had the laboratory studies and was able to do a focused exam and ultimately a comprehensive assessment, discussion and disposition of several conditions, all in a courteous and professional manner.
The entire encounter from receptionist to pharmacy window took just under two hours! I had the good fortune of having the clinic chief as my personal physician. As a surgeon who for 45 years has practiced the art of interacting with patients, I watched him closely and have only praise for his performance. Leaving the facility I pondered as to what made the difference at a VA clinic of all places. I believe it is because of good leadership. Customer service has been and will always be command driven, i.e. from top down. In our relentless move toward socialism there is still hope because of principled leaders for whom excellence is its own reward.
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