Several weeks ago I accompanied a family member to the doctor to consult on some potentially serious medical issues. While the patient was visiting with her healthcare professionals, I waited in the general waiting area and was surprised to connect with a front desk patient appointment coordinator with whom I had worked decades ago.
It was one of those rare opportunities to reconnect with a valued colleague. But our meeting had a far more important result that I did not anticipate.
At the reception area, her responsibility was to be the face and the voice of the organization. She greeted the patients who were often accompanied by family and reviewed the schedule of tests and procedures, directed patients how to navigate the complex medical campus (labs, imaging, cafeteria, restrooms, parking). Many patients coming to that office were seeing multiple specialists that day.
The patients in general were apprehensive as one might expect, but I was stunned to hear how many did not read the itinerary of their appointments (labs, specialist, imaging, consulting). Many (although schooled about these issues just days earlier by phone) did not understand that some tests required fasting, but they showed up after having had breakfast. A smaller percentage would show up on the wrong date and at the wrong time or be on the wrong floor in the wrong office.
It was clear that these patients and their family or accompanying companions were not vigilant about dates and times and instructions. Why?
Let me shift for a minute to the PGA.
Each spring, the Phoenix area hosts some of the premier golf tournaments on the PGA tour. A colleague of mine had a day pass before the tournament began. He was able to mingle with the top names in golf. The attendees could follow the players for a few holes. My colleague was struck by the meticulous, mechanical, and methodical pre-shot routines these players exhibited. The grip on the golf club, the positioning behind the golf ball, visualizing the hole—all moves were carefully orchestrated.
When the stakes are high and careers are on the line, this was no time to experiment or be unprepared.
And now on to the NBA.
A recent blog analyzed the pregame as well as travel routines for some of the top players in the world of basketball. They understand that careers are won or lost by the mentality, the mindset of the players. Some teams have even enforced a moratorium on cell phones and social media before games because, almost always, the messages are not positive and can be very distracting.
A publication from Sleep Health documented that late-night tweeting among 112 players from the NBA between 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. was associated with reductions in next-day game performance including fewer points scored and fewer rebounds. There also was less time played per game following late-night tweeting and an increase in turnovers and personal fouls. Shooting accuracy also decreased following late-night tweeting.
The top players have learned to meticulously pack their personal items and clothing, which presents a public face of the team. And they eliminate within reason business and financial transactions. Just before tipoff is not the time to be negotiating a contract or some endorsement deal with an energy drink or responding to the agent about a fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club.
What are the lessons?
You have just so much cognitive capacity—some people call it bandwidth—to make decisions. If you are anxious, upset, distracted, or sleep-deprived, your judgment and reasoning are compromised. And this “perfect storm” can clearly impact patients.
You may not be a professional golfer or a high-flying basketball icon. But you need to be informed, be alert, and be prepared for the Big Game. That way your healthcare providers can give you the high-quality care you need and deserve. Your health is not a game, and the stakes are high.
Here are the lessons from the administrative people in medical settings based on what they see every single day in their healthcare offices.
Read the material sent to you by the doctor’s offices via email or online. Take notes if the nurse calls with instructions before your appointment. Should you eat or not? Should you take your morning medicine or not?
Do you know the time and place for your appointment (building, office number, where to park, availability of a wheelchair, shuttle service)? Are you aware of any time change if you have traveled to attend an appointment? Be early. You may have paperwork to fill out. Check in and be patient. If you are late, know what number to call to alert the desk about your arrival.
If you are taking an elevator, be certain that the elevator goes to the floor of your appointment. Know the accessibility path if you need assistance with wheelchairs onsite. If you need a language translator, ask about that well in advance of the visit so the healthcare provider can arrange for one.
Almost every healthcare campus can provide a map so you know where to go and, equally importantly, where to park. Check online for a map.
Bring what you were instructed to bring: list of your medications and doses, names of previous physicians, relevant medical records, dates and names of relevant procedures or surgeries, insurance cards, someone to observe and take notes, a list of your concerns and questions (start with the top two most important, don’t work up to the big one).
Ask about accessing the patient portal before you arrive. You might be able to fill out medical info online before your visit.
Some institutions have a check-in kiosk like in the airport. Understand how it works and how much time should go by before you are called to your appointment. If you have questions about any advance procedures and locations, call the doctor’s office at least a day ahead for instructions.
No one has a greater stake in your healthcare than you do. Don’t miss your chance to shine at the Big Dance by being unprepared, late, flustered, missing paperwork, forgot medication list, ate but weren’t supposed to, wrong location, and any number of steps that could go wrong.
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