A ‘Desire to Assist’ Can Soothe Potentially Volatile Situations

Written by on August 29, 2014 in Practice tips - No comments

A man and his wife entered the practice, he was loud and obviously upset, that message was very clear.  He was carrying a large stack of bills that he eagerly threw down on the front desk.  The receptionist attempted to assist, but had no luck.  He was getting louder by the minute and the receptionist knew he was not going to listen to her any longer.  Thus, Super Woman at extension 10 was paged (that would be me, the surgical practice administrator).

I invited the couple to join me in my office.  (I wanted him off the stage, away from the audience.  We certainly didn’t need him signing autographs in the lobby.)   As we were walking I said, “I understand that you have some questions about your statements, may I look over these please?”  He growled, “You are wrong!  I do not have questions, I am mad that I keep getting all these bills!”  I said, “I understand exactly how you feel.  I’d much rather receive a check in the mail than a bill any day.  Would you allow me a few minutes to review these so that we can figure them out together?   We need to make sure your insurance has been filed correctly and has paid correctly.  Meanwhile, may I get you some water or a soft drink while you wait?”  (I was hoping for a cool down period.)

receptionistWEBI began looking over the stack and said, “I sure hope you are feeling better since your surgery” and he said he was.  He went on to say that he had emergency surgery and therefore had only “seen” the emergency department physician and then the surgeon. He was confused as to why he would be getting bills from people he hadn’t even seen.  I reviewed each one and began explaining, starting with the bill from the emergency department, the surgeon’s fee, then the pathologist fee and why this was necessary, the radiologist whose expertise helped to determine the problem, then on to the anesthesiologist bill and he hit the ceiling!   He said, “you mean to tell me this doctor charged this much JUST TO PUT ME TO SLEEP?!?  That is RIDICULOUS!”  I looked over at his seemingly sweet, very quiet wife then back at the patient and I said, “Actually no sir, he didn’t charge you anything to put you to sleep, he only charged you to wake you up.  Now, THAT was worth it, don’t you think?”

After a second, he said, “Well, when you put it like that young lady, I guess it is!”  He even smiled!  His wife, on the other hand, leaned over and whispered to me, “Before his next surgery, can we talk about that?”

No one wishes to pay for something they do not understand.  Sometimes it only takes a few moments to review and explain, which also builds trust and rapport.  We were “buddies” after that.  Of course anytime they had a question, they were asking for me, which I considered a compliment.

While presenting a seminar on “Dealing with the Difficult” I told this story and had one person say to me, “I think that is condescending.”  (Merriam-Webster: showing that you believe you are more intelligent or better than other people).   I personally feel that when I sincerely offer my time, engage in eye contact, offer ears to listen and a heart that is open…..most people sincerely appreciate that.  I have learned that there are few people that will TAKE the time to understand where the other person is coming from with a desire to assist.  I am one of those.  I am proud to make a difference.

by Denise Price Thomas
Speaker, Trainer, Undercover Patient
Healthcare Comedienne ~ “Gladys Friday”

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