Just Sit There and Bleed: A Tale of Healthcare Customer Service
Adam Toporek Keynote Speaker of Customers That Stick®

Just Sit There and Bleed: A Tale of Healthcare Customer Service


Author’s note. This incident occurred around three years ago. All times and dialogue are approximate. Company and personnel names have been changed to protect the guilty.

We have all experienced the joy of hard shell plastic clam packaging. You know the type, the packaging that requires the Jaws of Life just to get to your new remote control. The kind Amazon created a campaign against.

It was one of these packages that sent me to seek emergency medical care and to one of the worst customer service experiences of my life.

Eventually, We All Slip Up

Healthcare Customer Service | Hand Stitches

My hand right after stitches. Colored green to look less gross and to memorialize our Hulk-like rage.

I grew up working in a warehouse, so I have a long history of safely opening items with a blade. Starting at 10 years old and going into my forties, I had never cut myself opening a box or package.

However, that evening, when faced with a ridiculously over-packaged item, I got sloppy. Instead of taking the extra time to find a pair of scissors, I tried to open the package with a very sharp, very unstable key chain knife.

As you might have guessed by now, the knife lost grip with the plastic, and slashed a large gash in my knuckle.

Fortunately, I was in the bathroom when the accident occurred. Blood splattered everywhere, but it was easy to clean up.

Unfortunately, my wife was at the grocery store when it happened. I wrapped my hand in a towel and kept pressure on it until she arrived.

Healthcare Choices

Our healthcare choices that night were not good ones. We could either go to the QwikClinic or the emergency room. We figured if the emergency room was busy, a simple hand gash would rank fairly low on the triage list, so we decided the QwikClinic was the better option.

The QwikClinic is basically an alternative to the emergency room for non life-threatening medical care. It is open late and is often conveniently located.

The QwikClinic was fairly busy when we arrived. I had been there before, so registration was not too bad. I was taken to the back within about twenty minutes, where they took my vital signs and then washed the wound out. The nurse replaced my bloody towel with a sterile “field dressing” and sent me back to the lobby.

I was then told that it would be at least an hour before the doctor could see me for the stitches. We discussed our options, and then I went back to front desk to confirm that we had a full hour before they called us. The response I received:

“Oh hun, you don’t have to worry about that. Dr. Kutras is working tonight. You’ve got plenty of time.”

Not a great message to receive, but at least we had time for dinner. We headed out to grab a bite.

And Waiting, And Waiting, And Waiting…

We probably burned a solid 45 minutes eating, and when we got back I waited what seemed like forever before they finally called me to the back.

In the back, I was ushered into a small cubicle type setup where the “rooms” are separated by partition curtains, and you can hear everything happening next to you.

The nurses were friendly, and I foolishly assumed that I would be seen by the doctor soon.

Not so much.

Now, the wait was starting to get to me. We had easily crossed the two hour mark, and the nurses could not tell me when the doctor was going to be there. I had left my work and phone in the lobby with my wife, so I had nothing to do but sit there and bleed.

It was probably a good 45 minutes before the doctor arrived in my curtained area.

Big Ego, Bad Service

When Dr. Kutras entered my room with the two nurses, he did not even acknowledge me. He simply busted in, took one look around, and said, “Why is this tray not setup? How am I supposed to do my job when the tools are not ready? When I come in a room, I should have everything I need so I can do my job.”

To say, I was shocked by the encounter would be an understatement. But what happened next shocked me even more, the doctor walked out.

No joke; he just left.

The two nurses were looking at each other like “there goes Dr. Kutras” again, but they were professional enough not to say anything in front of me. They did not have to; their looks said everything.

Even worse was what they did to fix the problem. They took the plastic wrap off the tray with the utensils, and moved it three feet from the counter to a place beside me.

I could not believe that was the great offense that caused my doctor to walk out — ripping off some plastic wrap and having the tray a few feet out of place.

I was steamed at this point.

Then it got worse.

When the doctor left my room, I had assumed he was going to check a file or something and “teach” the nurses a lesson. I bit my tongue and swallowed my anger, assuming he would be right back. Well, he did come back — just not to my room! The jack*@! started with the patient next to me.

At this point, I was infuriated — which is pretty hard for a business to do. We had crossed the 2.5 hour mark, the doctor had made it to my room, left, and started on another patient. I had to listen to him diligently asking questions of the patient next to me, while I just sat there waiting.

At some point in this process, I had been gone so long that my wife came back to check on me. She knew instantly that something was wrong. I explained the situation in hushed tones, which unfortunately did more to make her angry than to cool me down.

The end result was that we decided we could not walk out. No matter how bad we had been treated; they had us. To go start over at the emergency room would have been even worse. It would likely be another 3 or more hours. The dog had not been fed, we both had crazy weeks with work, and we would probably not get home until after 2:00am.

So, we stuck it out in relative silence. Just as a wise person does not complain to the person who is about to prepare their food, a wise person also does not raise hell with the guy who is about to run a needle through their flesh multiple times.

Eventually, I got my stitches, and I managed to keep my David Banner face on the whole time.

Is There A Customer Service Lesson Here?

Yes. Culture and expectations.

This doctor was a jerk (or was having an epically bad night). Worse, unlike Alec Baldwin in the classic speech from Malice, this doctor did not have a lot of reason to have a “god complex.” He did a nice job with the stitches, but he did not perform brain surgery that night.

If the QwikClinic had created a culture where behaviors such as those were not acceptable, then a jerk like Dr. Kutras would not feel warranted in treating a patient with such utter disregard. Or if he did, he would quickly be shown the door.

However, if ego and bad behavior are allowed to run loose in a business, then bad customer service will be the inevitable result. If bad behavior is not constrained by cultural expectations first and outright policies second, then the customers will suffer, and eventually the business will suffer.

Culture elevates the best and mitigates the worst. And culture trumps ego every time.

Do you have a story of horrible healthcare customer service? Ever had a doctor like Dr. Kutras?

About the Author Adam Toporek

By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.

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