For the last couple of weeks, I have been telling you about the saga of my broken foot, and also the leadership lessons I have learned along the way. Well I have one more installment on this topic, and then I’m done (I promise … at least for a while!) You will recall that I finally got an appointment to get my cast off on June 21. After the rigmarole of finding someone to remove the cast, I wish I could say that the rest of my experience was smooth and uneventful. Unfortunately, it wasn’t!
I arrived at the cast clinic in Calgary for my appointment with Dr. B, the orthopedic surgeon whom I had been referred to. The technician sent me in for x-rays, she pulled out the whirring saw and carefully cut off my cast, and then she cleaned up, as best as she could, my blue and bloated foot. “The doctor should be with you in a few minutes,” she said as she stepped into the next cubicle. About ten minutes later, not one, but two doctors arrived – Dr. B and what seemed to be an intern. While they looked at the new x-rays, I showed them the old x-rays from three weeks ago (from India) as well as a letter that Dr. Seth, the Indian orthopedic surgeon, had given me (at my request) outlining my diagnosis and treatment to submit to my insurance company. Well, apparently giving Dr. B the letter was my big mistake. The two doctors spent the next ten minutes discussing how attractive and eye-catching Dr. Seth’s stationery was! They loved the setup of his letterhead and his use of gold script. They particularly liked how he presented and laid out his qualifications and designations. While I watched in amusement, the intern strongly recommended that Dr. B should revise his letterhead to be more like Dr. Seth’s. While they conversed, I tried in vain several times to get Dr. B’s attention since I had a number of questions about continued care for my still-swollen foot. To no avail! He simply couldn’t take his eyes and interest away from the letter to listen to what I was asking. When I was finally ushered out of the cubicle, I still did not have any of my questions answered. Nor had I been given any instructions about after-cast care, exercises, or possible physiotherapy. Nonplussed, I limped my way to the elevator lobby with my envelope containing the old x-rays. While waiting for the elevator car to arrive, I glanced into the envelope. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that my letter for the insurance company was missing! Back I hobbled to the clinic, and the helpful technician checked to make sure that the letter had not slipped out below the examination table. No luck. I spotted Dr. B and asked him about the letter.
“Oh,” he said, “the letter is in my file.”
“I need it back because I have to submit to the insurance company.”
“No,” he responded, “the letter is addressed to me and now it belongs in my file.”
“Actually, no. It wasn’t addressed to you. It was written by Dr. Seth specifically at my request to support my out-of-country claim with the insurance company.”
“No, of course not. The letter was written from one doctor to another as a professional courtesy.”
“Dr. Seth doesn’t know you. In fact, I didn’t know about you until a few days ago.”
“No, the letter will stay with me. It’s part of your medical record.”
“You returned the first set of x-rays. Aren’t they part of my medical record?”
We went back and forth for a few minutes. He finally offered to give me a photocopy of the letter. Even though the insurance company specifically asked me to submit originals of all documents, at this point I was ready to wave the white flag of surrender.
“A copy will be fine,” I responded.
A few minutes later I was back out in the elevator lobby, shaking my head and more than a little mystified by what had just occurred.
Through our entire interaction, Dr. B was more interested in a piece of stationery than the patient in front of him. I was clearly just another set of bones in his busy day. He forgot that bones are attached to real people. I think Dr. B failed to remember the real reason he should be in the medical profession – to help OTHER people. True, he may in fact be superbly skillful technically, but his inability to relate to his patient made him come across as arrogant, self-centred and uncaring.
What about you? Do you take the time to build rapport and listen to your customers and staff? Why are you in the job you’re in – for yourself, or for your clients and employees? Good leaders know that it’s the latter.