The Forgotten Appointment


I recent wrote a blog on following up test results.

Who Is Responsible For Following Up Test Results

Here is an example of such a scenario – where the patient had to chase up an appointment.

A friend of mine has to have a yearly MRI. It was detected 2 years ago that she has a cyst on her pancreas – although the consultant was not alarmed in any way, and felt it was indeed just a cyst he wanted it monitored first every 6 months and then at her last appointment last January he said that she could go to yearly checks.

She saw the consultant last October who again confirmed that the MRI would be done in January. The MRI appointment in the past has always come through approximately 6 weeks before the date.

She was getting concerned as by the end of December she had not got her appointment through.

After the Christmas break she phone the consultants secretary and got her answer phone. She tried for several days getting the same message.

The message said:

“This is Mr ****** office. There will be someone here between 8.30 – 1.30 Monday to Friday. There is no facility to leave a message on this telephone.

She was actually phoning within these hours – and tried every day – and the same message was given every single time.

The secretary obviously was on extended holiday – but did not ensure that the correct message was put on the machine. My friend had no idea when she would return, and had to keep trying on a daily basis until she got a reply.

When she finally got a reply she explained about not having an appointment for the MRI. The secretary looked on her notes – and then said the dreaded phase “I can’t see you booked for one – there is nothing in your notes”

My friend had to go through the how scenario about having to have yearly MRI’s that she had spoken to the consultant last January and the October who said that he would get the MRI appointment sorted. The secretary looked back at her notes and confirmed that indeed she had in fact had several MRI’s already and that she would look into it.

There was no apology about the mistake. You should always apologise and tell the patient you will get it sorted immediately. More importantly get back to the patient as soon as you can with the apporpriate answer.

That was 2 weeks ago and she has heard nothing. She doesn’t know if the secretary has in fact spoken to the consultant, if an appointment has been made, and if so how long she has to wait – as in previous appointments one MRI has been booked directly after the previous one. She could be waiting months for another MRI appointment.

If my friend had not chased up her appointment it would never had been made – how many people would have just “left” it thinking the appointment would come through. My friend is obviously concerned as this appointment as it is fairly important – and is worrying for her.

From a Managers point of view this is pretty bad patient service. I understand you cannot get back to every single enquiry that you receive, but certainly if one of these enquiries is due to a fault of your surgery, hospital or department the important thing you should do is follow-up the mistake, make the appropriate appointments and get back to the patient with the details and an apology that it happened in the first place.

My friend received nothing, no appointment, no communication, and certainly no apology.

She is now going to have to phone again, perhaps having to explain it to yet another secretary, and feels that she might in fact “annoy” them for phoning again, I have ensured her that it is important to phone, she should not have to be made to feel guilty about phoning for something that was not her fault in the first place.

This is one example of following up test results or  appointments if you hear nothing back. Mistakes do happen – it’s how you handle them that can resolve a difficult situation.

If you have a patient that mentions that they have not heard about a hospital appointment that they have been referred to from your Surgery  – ask them to check with the hospital.

I appreciate that mistakes do get made – its how you handle them and get the situation rectified is the key.

And one last thing – make sure the message you give on your answer phone is the right one!

And to add insult this was actually a private consultant she was seeing – so not only handled badly she is paying for the service too.


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