Hello shoppers...

In the middle of buying stuff and being good consumers and just living your shopper lives one half-price sale at a time, you may have noticed that, to quote President Ford, "Our long national nightmare is over."

Ford was referring to Nixon and Watergate. I'm talking about being force-fed TV images of politicians jumping and shrieking like teeth - bearing monkeys at an approaching leopard.

That leopard is health care reform. Yesterday Congress passed it. Today President Obama will sign it. And everything will go back to normal - no more screaming monkeys.

And Avatar is a documentary about the residents of Bozeman, Montana.


Regardless of its realities - I want everything to cost $000.00, so if that's what reform will do for medicine, let's quickly move on to fast food, satellite TV, rent and car reform - health care reform also needs to reform the way doctors and nurses engage us.

I"m not talking about when we're flu-puking up our guts or any other medical emergency that takes us to the ER. At that point, we could give a hoot and a holler if physicians and nurses smiled, frowned or screamed at us like freaked-out monkeys. Just make the pain go away.

What is problematic is the way that many doctors and their support staff treat us when we visit their offices for check-ups and out-patient procedures.


While more medical schools that ever offer training in a physician's attitude as part of the overall doctor's skill-set development, the emphasis remains on the incredible array of skills and knowledge needed to diagnose and treat patients. I encourage that emphasis. I prefer an irritable Jonas Salk over Bozo The Clown with a scalpel - that's a Stephen King novel. Ewww, creepy!

But the two are not mutually exclusive.

Tell me this - when is the last time a nurse took your vital signs (typically before the doctor enters the room) and told you what those vital signs are, without you having to ask like she's your mom and you're 6 years old? How often are you greeted when you enter a doctor's office - with something other than that ole' closed ended favorite, "Can I help you?" No, I just stopped in to see what sick people look like. Thanks!

You may have a wonderfully engaging doctor, or be blessed with nurses who smile and remember your name - you are lucky and you know it.

But the gap remains - how consistently friendly and engaging are the majority of people to whom we have made ourselves completely vulnerable, who touch, probe and feel our bodies, in whom we give our full faith and trust, to diagnose and treat us? Shouldn't the rules of retail apply more to physicians and nurses?

The phone book is full of doctors, just like its loaded with places to purchase clothes and buy snacks and get your front end aligned, although not all under one roof. (Rats! I let the cat out of the bag - someone from Wal-Mart just read this and shouted, "Ahhh-HAA!") We can certainly shop until we find the doctor that meets our customer service requirements.


 But that can be a challenge. The practice of medicine demands a dominant left-brain - analytical observation, reasoned analysis and diagnosis. There may not be much room left in most physician's heads for thinking about pulling a surgical glove over it and blowing it up with their nose. 

So what about training? If you think that teaching proper bedside manner to med students is required in medical school, think again, Dr. Welby. (Now THERE was a doc who knew how to greet!)

I spoke to Dr. Tim McCoy, a physician (not mine) at Mercy South Family Practice in Des Moines. He says that when he was in medical school back in the 90's, the importance of a doctor's demeanor towards his/her patients was virtually ignored.

"There was very little, if any training" focusing on bedside manor, said McCoy, who attended Drake and Des Moines University, College of Osteopathic Medicine. "The primary focus was on diagnosis and treatment."

Things are changing. McCoy says that more emphasis is now placed on the emotional dynamic between the doctor and patient.  

"We've had some seminars through Mercy in the last couple of years that focused on improving bedside manner," says McCoy. There are also companies hired by health organizations that create "secret shopper" scenarios for physicians, who are then graded on their overall people skills.

Des Moines University has also developed SPAL, or Standardized Performance Assessment Laboratory, which uses actual people (paid) who pretend to be patients, so students can practice and hone their communication skills.

Think I'm nuts for suggesting that it matters whether a doctor is nice or not? Sue me!


Which is what we do more often to mean doctors. Research done in 2004 at Harvard University, compared the personalities of surgeons who had been sued over and over with those who had never been sued. The research found that doctors who had warmer, more expressive voices, were never sued, while those who spoke with a more dominant tone, got the calls from our attorneys.

Here's another idea that probably has supportable research but I'm too tired to Google it. What about the placebo effect? Ya know - when you give someone a pill that they think is medicine to make them feel better and they take it and do feel better but it turns out the pill wasn't medicine but just some capsule full of sugar?

If the placebo effect exists - if we can think ourselves healthy with a pill - isn't it then fair to surmise that simple acts of kindness from doctors and nurses can influence us, filling us with the medicine of their smiles and laughter and joy and empathy and nurturing, helping us feel worthy of being healthy, and undeserving of being ill?

Okay it's a stretch. But it beats thinking about the next round of health care reform debate. Screaming monkeys - I think I'm gonna be sick!



Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and radio show host. "The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show" airs Saturday mornings from 8-9am, on 1350 KRNT. Email him at Jonniewright@thebuyosphere.com.

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