When A Rude Patient Disrespects Your Staff
I have a rule for my staff. If any of them treats a patient with disrespect, that employee is immediately terminated. I have the same rule for my patients regarding their treatment of my staff. Recently, a young, new receptionist came to me upset about something. She told me one of our patients called about his appointment and when she asked him to hold so she could check the time, he called her a “dumb b----” and hung up.
I looked at the man’s chart and noted he had been disrespectful to the female staff on other occasions. I called Mr. Jones.
“Hank, this is Dr. McCord. Could I speak to the dumb b---- of your house?”
“Why, hello, doctor. There’s no dumb b---- living here.”
“Hank, that’s a real coincidence because there’s no dumb b---- who works in my office either.”
“Well, look, doc. That bimbo didn’t know how to look up my appointment time and ...”
“Hank, by law, I’m supposed to give you 30 days to find a new podiatrist but in your case, I’m making an exception. I never want you near this office again and if you call one of my staff a ‘dumb b----’ again, I’ll report you to the phone company for making obscene calls. Take care, old buddy.”
This type of incident has happened rarely in my 28-year-old practice, maybe once or twice a year. Even though the incidence is low, it is important to have a policy about how patients treat your staff. There’s an axiom in this business: it’s harder to find good help than it is to find more patients.
My staff takes pride in the quality of their patient service. Rude, obnoxious patients who make crude and hurtful remarks to or about my co-workers need to start hunting for another podiatrist.
The cruel comments are not always made directly to the staff. A new patient observed one of my disabled assistants and said, “Hey, doc! What’s with the robot?”
I lowered the exam table and asked him to try his shoes on. When he had the laces tied, I opened the door for him and said, “Take a hike. That ‘robot’ is a person with feelings. I don’t need patients like you.” The patient protested that he was just kidding. I escorted him to the front door.
Another challenging situation is men who make sexual comments to my female staff. There is a fine line between teasing and flattery, and sexual harassment. When I sense a problem, I have the male medical assistant take over. The conversation switches from, “That’s a nice blouse you’re wearing, honey ...” to “How ‘bout them Seahawks?”
Once in a while, a patient will be genuinely sorry and apologize to the offended staff. With the staffer’s permission, I allow that patient back into the practice. First, we have an understanding about how people are to be treated in our office.
Some doctors don’t choose to protect their staff for fear of losing patients or being charged with abandonment of patient care. The downside of this is the employee can charge the doctor with allowing a hostile work environment or sexual harassment.
I have never had legal problems from the patients I have dismissed from my care because of abusive behavior toward my staff. I document the incidents well and the employee writes a brief report. That goes into the patient’s chart in an envelope marked “Confidential-Do Not Copy.” This way, we know what has happened but the next doctor who may request a copy of our chart notes doesn’t get the abuse report.
I believe most patients would be too embarrassed to file a complaint against a practice they have been “fired” from for being abusive to female staff.
I also closely monitor any racial or religious comments. My partner is married to a lovely Mexican woman. My office manager has a child who is half African-American. My grandchild, who is due soon, will be half Korean. There are two Mormons, a Jehovah’s Witness, a Baptist, a Catholic and an agnostic on my staff. I’m Irish so only Irish jokes are allowed in our office.
Occasionally, a patient will make a derogatory racial comment. I give him or her one warning and let the patient know the diversity of our office staff. Most apologize. One guy didn’t and kept up his diatribe on his hatred of Mexicans. I escorted him to the front door. Half of his toenails were trimmed. The visit was free.
Dr. McCord (pictured) is a Diplomate with the American Board of Podiatric Surgery. He practices at the Centralia Medical Center in Centralia, Wash.