By Beth Besen
“Thank you for calling. Your call is very important to us. Please listen carefully to the following options. Press 1 if you are…”
Already fuming?! Sadly, most of us are all too familiar with robotic recordings, interminable hold loops and prompts that never quite provide the answer we’re looking for. And when we’re calling a doctor? Well, let’s just say patients and patience don’t always mix; our pressing needs often make it more likely we’ll hang up than hang on.
But hanging up means our smartphones become free to tweet, text and post about the frustrating experience. That’s what happened with Chappaqua resident Georgia Frasch. Early in October, Georgia called MKMG to book a sick visit for her daughter. She dutifully left a voicemail, but never received a call back and couldn’t find an alternative way in. As she said, the experience left her feeling like she was “losing my mind.”
Georgia–one of two administrators of the very active, nearly 3000-member Chappaqua Moms (CM) Facebook Group–took her “surreal nightmare” to the CM board. Within minutes, the responses were overwhelming.
People “Liked” her post, they offered empathy and related similar stories, they suggested alternative doctors and ways to outsmart or get around the system. But, most importantly, one of the MKMG doctors was made aware of the CM thread and reached out to Georgia. Dr. Elliot Barsh, a MKMG pediatrician with 25 years of experience, offered to work with Georgia and the community at large. He assured her that he and others were well aware of the operational problems and that constructive criticism would be welcomed and discussed.
Georgia jumped aboard right away, posting a new thread: “We have an opportunity to make a change through Chappaqua Moms.” The responses were immediate, and Georgia began collecting, editing and forwarding to a very receptive Dr. Barsh.
I spoke with Dr. Barsh to follow up for this column, and was touched by his earnest appreciation for the opportunities the CM post brought to light. As he said, “We know we can take good care of you once you are in the room; it’s what happens in between that needs work.” He shared that his wife, too, has had problems getting through so he knows firsthand the frustration patients experience while he simultaneously feels responsible to bring about change. “There’s no reason why people should leave because of service. Let’s be accountable, make this forum meaningful” were his parting words.
I next spoke with Dr. Scott Hayworth, MKMG’s CEO for over 15 years. I asked him how he felt about people taking their frustrations to social media and what feedback he could offer the community. Hayworth replied that he has been concentrating on customer service “long before it even became popular,” that he is “happy to accept constructive criticism” and that “social media, if well controlled, can be a very good thing.”
Hayworth firmly believes that “we have the best medicine in the region,” and pointed out that MKMG serves over 300,000 patients in 25 locations. He acknowledged that the operations area needs updating, and that communication needs to be easier and more user-friendly.
To that end, he specifically mentioned work being done on a couple of different fronts: The first is a Patient Portal which will allow patients to interact directly through internet and email. I asked why the Portal had not been better publicized (seemingly some people know about it while others do not) and was told that contact data is being collected and updated-and has been for years now –but that the Portal is not yet in use; any information suggesting otherwise is premature. Hayworth doesn’t have a hard start-date for the Portal but allows that he expects it to roll out “within the next six months.”
Additionally, the group is working on a one-stop Call Center: Patients will call a central number and will be able to book any/all appointments at one time; so, for example, a Chappaqua Mom like Georgia would be able to call and book not only a child’s sick visit, but also and simultaneously her own and all of her family’s appointments.
Stay tuned, and let’s all hope that “the doctors will see” us, and we them, in a more understanding light.
Beth Besen, another Chappaqua mom, appreciates grassroots groups and the power of positive social media use.