Since everyone seems to have health care on the brain these days, now seems like a good time to cover medical etiquette. Between my work consulting for medical offices and my husband’s recent illness, I have seen both sides—patient and professional. Read on for etiquette tips to help make your medical interactions go more smoothly.
One note: I don’t think these things are exclusive to the medical industry. However, medical offices are different in that their customers are patients who are sick, old, or just afraid of doctors and what they might tell them. The administrative staff needs to put themselves in the place of a patient. They need to learn empathy. They’re not working in a garage—they are dealing with people’s health.
For Healthcare Professionals:
-When making an appointment, the first question is “Do you have insurance?” In my husband’s case, he has Medicare as primary and Aetna as secondary. When he was looking for a new orthopedic surgeon, he was told by two different doctors’ offices: “Sorry, the doctor doesn’t accept Medicare patients.” It’s pretty disconcerting when you are in pain, are recommended a surgeon, and the receptionist tells you right away to forget about making an appointment. I understand that many doctors do not want to deal with Medicare, although we have found that Medicare pays faster than insurance companies and there are rarely any denials on claims. However, there are ways of saying “no” and one would be “We don’t, but we can recommend so and so.”
-The way some nurses, assistants and PAs dress is deplorable. Gone are the days of crisp white uniforms. I know white lab coats cannot be worn by all personnel and that it’s all about comfort these days, but you can be comfortable and look professional at the same time.
-I don’t think a doctor should examine you in his or her street clothes, especially a gynecologist. Wearing a lab coat is perceived as authoritative and knowledgeable.
-When you’re checking out after visiting the doctor, some employees don’t even look up at you. You hand them your papers and give them your credit card and they say “sign here.” The least they can do is smile and say thank you (and so should you!).
-When the nurse comes in to take your vitals and asks you what meds you are on, many of them are clueless when it comes to some of the most common medications. Shouldn’t a nurse be familiar with Zoloft?
-Being put on hold without being asked if it’s okay. It only takes a second! The other person could be distressed or in pain.
-When visiting a loved one in the hospital, respect their privacy and the privacy of the other patients around them. Keep your noise level down, and don’t peek inside other rooms—it’s incredibly invasive. And if the person you are visiting is in with a nurse or having a procedure done, wait until they are ready to receive you.
-Make an effort with your dress. You don’t have to show up to the hospital in a suit and tie, but that doesn’t mean you can roll up in sloppy sweats or holey t-shirts.
-Show respect. From the nurses to the orderlies to the other visitors you pass in the hallways, people in hospitals are under a lot of stress. The least you can do is flash a smile as you walk by, hold the elevator for others, and in general show courtesy. You never know what the person is going through.
-If your loved one has had an extended stay in the hospital, it’s a nice gesture of gratitude to treat the hospital workers who helped him/her to flowers or, better yet, some nice baked goods. Sending gooey cupcakes to the hospital may not send the healthiest message, but you can always try low-fat blueberry muffins or a cheese and veggie platter if you prefer.
-Always ask the person you are visiting if you can bring them anything. Simple staples like bobby pins, hand lotion or magazines can be a comfort when you’re away from home.
-Check with the patient (and/or their doctor) to see when it’s most convenient for a visit. Observe hospital visiting hours, but also be aware that the person you are visiting may be undergoing a procedure (such as dialysis) during the day and may not be up to receiving visitors. Be considerate.