Does Your Patient Have to Like You
Friday, June 25, 2021
by Dylan Chadwick
“We’re your parents, not your peers.” That’s the line my folks signed off with many times in response to one of our many disciplinary quarrels. This usually followed me telling them I “hated them” or something equally ridiculous. I was an adolescent once, and though it’s not something I’m proud of, I did what adolescents do. Luckily, my folks could maintain cool heads in such heated situations, seeing clearly that at that moment at least, the nature of our relationship didn't dictate that we like one another. In fact, what they keyed into was the fact that it was infinitely more important that I respected them and their authority, than it was for me to personally like them.
Furthermore, they knew that inasmuch as I was responding to the emotional feelings of injustice that my teenage hormones continually exacerbated, I was just venting emotions. Of course I didn’t actually hate them, nor did I truly think they were “ruining my life” (as I accused them many times). This isn't about me though, and for the record, my parents and I have a great relationship now.
This semantic description, between being liked and respected, has become a sticking point for people, particularly those who must work with customers. The service industry model, one which emphasizes customer service over all else, has bled into numerous other industries, including medicine, and nowhere is this more prevalent than the world of doctor rating sites.
Patient Voices Online
Nowadays, customers have more opportunities share their own “shopping experiences” than ever, and they can do it with any micro-community they wish. This includes patients and the various avenues through which they’re getting their health care. These avenues, namely physician rating sites, are fully on the physician radar at this point. Indeed, it’s one of the reasons industry leaders like Kevin Pho continually urge doctors to control their own web presence by creating and managing their own social media and reputation management profiles.
The thing is, determining which patient complaints are legitimate, and which ones are merely the result of an unrelated emotional venting, is a very incomplete (and fruitless) science. Furthermore, when a patient feels angry, they can resort to personal criticisms of the physician, ones which are not fair, but are personally hurtful, or even damaging to a professional reputation. While troubling, astute physicians must understand the true nature of these patient ratings, before they react or internalize any charges made against them.
When frustrated enough to grind an axe online, patients are often responding to “customer service” issues when voicing complaints about their visit. These can range from dissatisfaction with the physician’s demeanor, a crowded waiting room, difficulty finding the office or simply not being seen as quickly as they were promised. It’s generally not an indictment of a physician’s medical capabilities or intelligence, even if a physician might immediately interpret it that way.
Patients, like physicians, are at the mercy of external factors when going about their day. When these external situations start to go awry, it can lead patients to feel there's a conspiracy against them or will lead to extremely charged feelings that spill over into whatever platform is available. This starts to get into non-medical territory like car problems, traffic on the freeways or issues with the kids, and really serve as accents to their actual office visit and the emotions they brought in with them.
Should Anyone Worry?
Yes and no. The primary point to remember when encountering an unsavory physician review is that, even if unpleasant, it’s an opportunity for self-reflection on pain points within their own practice. It’s also important that physicians maintain enough objectivity that they can see a negative physician review and see it as an opportunity to evaluate, and not become defensive. Internalizing the negativity, or interpreting it as a physical attack, will absolutely not lead anywhere.
Physicians should also take negative reviews with a grain of salt, accounting for all the factors outlined above. Getting heated, or even worrying about whether or not a patient “likes” them will not help any situation. It also prevents the physician from making an actual outreach with their patient, one which will identify an opportunity to improve their own performance as a physician.
Liked vs. Respected
There’s an adage for this whole ordeal and it's one I've already outlines. It's true though. It’s infinitely better to be liked than respected, and I’m prone to believe that principle applies to healthcare almost more than anywhere else. When a patient respects their physician, they’re far more likely to stick with, and maintain, the health advice and regimens their physicians dispense. Those who do not, or who become offended by a physician’s personality or behavior, are less likely to implement these care instructions, which creates a greater issue for the physician than simply being disliked.
Remember, if the goal of dispensing healthcare is for patients to adhere to digestible information and follow it through, then that’s the premiere objective. Sometimes physicians must deliver unpleasant or sensitive information that patients take with much difficulty. While troublesome, they’re often the first step towards creating and fostering improved health care on both the physician and patient ends.
Old school sales techniques maintain that the verbiage a clerk uses should invite, rather than prohibit, the customer from an interaction. This means that instead of using absolute terms like “we cannot,” or “That is against our policy,” they should say things like “I’m sorry, how can we correct this?” Now, this is medicine, not buying a new sofa, but some of the same principles apply.
A common complaint in the physician rating sphere is that patients felt a physician was simply schilling information onto them, without listening to the patient any further. Rather than using terminology which stops a discussion, it’d serve physicians well to be continually inviting patients to respond to the advice they’re given. This is especially true when a physician has to deliver unpleasant news. In these circumstances, they are obligated to give the patient the opportunity to ask questions, relay their own feelings, and even, vent their personal frustrations with the information.
Furthermore, it’s important that physicians recognize that patient complaints are legitimate, even if they’re misguided. Physicians don’t need their patients to actually like them and invite them to all their birthday parties. They must simply be willing to listen and follow their sound medical counsel.
Ubel, Peter, MD. "Patients Don't like Their Doctors. Why Is That?"KevinMD.com. KevinMD, 04 Feb. 2015. Web. 13 Feb. 2015.