Sunday, July 4, 2010

Being Hassled at the Reception Area

Sometimes advocacy takes a simple path. Simple enough that all it requires is to tell a doctor's nasty receptionist to basically shut up.

We have HIPPA rights and sign a zillion forms attesting to these rights. But what about the receptionist who announces your business -- from medical to financial -- loud enough for everyone in the waiting room to hear it?

Financially speaking, it's only right to pay what you owe, even if it's in installments. What's wrong is when some receptionists handle it publicly.

This posting is about how you can summon up enough courage to stick up for yourself when confronted by an intimidating receptionist. This posting is about never giving up and not allowing fear and intimidation to rule you.

Here's my story: A few years ago, doctors and I thought I might have had a breast cancer recurrence (at the time none of us knew that I didn't). I was waiting in my surgeon's office with a bunch of strangers, when the receptionist called me up to the desk and announced in a booming voice that I owed XX amount of money and asked whether I wanted to pay it now.

I was in such a state of panic about my health, that I didn't even remember whether I owed money or how much. And frankly, at that time -- when I was once again pondering whether I had breast cancer again -- cutting a check wasn't at the forefront of my concerns.

At first, I meekly told her that I needed to see the bill (sometimes you don't even get a bill sent to you) and that I'd pay it eventually. Turned out that the doctor's office screwed up and didn't find the referral in time for a previous appointment. But at the time, my mind was reeling because a new wrench was thrown at me during one of the most difficult times of my life.

I sat back down in my seat. And thought. And then I got angry.

I went back up to the receptionist and said, "Listen, right now I'm here because I may I have breast cancer again. I don't want to hear about how much money I owe. Don't ever talk to me like that again."

And just this Friday, I saw another doctor for a routine followup. Her receptionist announced that I owed XX amount of money and would I like to pay it now? Luckily, there was no one in the waiting room. I told him "no," and later told the doctor that I didn't like this receptionist because it was inappropriate to ask about money in a public area.

When anyone in a doctor's office announces your business in a public place, it is your business to speak up and tell that person how rude he/she is being and/or inform the doctor of this problem.

A receptionist may call your name and proceed to discuss your business loud enough for others to hear it. But remember, you call the shots in how you are treated -- and as the patient you deserve to be treated with respect.

Note to caregivers: If you are speaking on behalf of a loved one, you are such an important part in the patient's medical care and thus would best help the patient by acting as her/his advocate. This doesn't mean exploding with anger at every little problem, but it does mean working effectively on the patient's behalf.

Feel free to take the above advice and speak up to receptionists or any other medical personnel who you feel have not respected the patient. You are more powerful than you know.

Beth L. Gainer is a professional writer and has published numerous academic and magazine articles, as well as an essay on her breast cancer experience in the anthology Voices of Breast Cancer by LaChance Publishing. She writes about a potpourri of topics, including motherhood and her Chinese adoption experience at, and her cat Hemi blogs at Beth teaches writing and literature at Robert Morris University in the Chicago area. She has a guest posting on The World's Strongest Librarian at can be contacted at and Photobucket

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