Tuesday, July 14, 2015

If Your Pediatrician Doesn't Care: What would you do?

If you got a bill from your pediatrician's office after your kids (and you) had a series of horrific patient/customer experiences, would you refuse to pay it?

Is that position justified?

How would you react if the pediatrician's office response was that they basically didn't care?

The NFO and I have been customers of Pediatric Associates in Wheaton, MD for almost 12 years.

We chose the office primarily because of the location/convenience (I know, not ideal), but also, when we started, we felt like we got great attention. More importantly, we felt like our kids got great attention.

Unfortunately, over the years, we have seen that change pretty dramatically.  I will say the nurses are, for the most part, really great. And there are a handful of doctors that seem to genuinely care.

However, they seem to be the exception rather than the rule. Still, partially because of convenience and mostly out of habit, we persist in going there.

My question today is: should parents at a Pediatrician's office expect a level of customer service similar to one they might receive elsewhere or when it comes to doctors is it "take it or leave it?"

What Happened Specifically
A few months ago, the NFO took in our son, Paco, who was vomiting continuously every single day with no fever or other apparent symptoms.  We came in a total of 2-3 times that week. Of course, we were charged for each visit.

On the 2nd visit, we were told by Dr. ___ that we should come in  yet again so that we could get to the bottom of the problem and help Paco feel better.  She was reluctant to bring Paco in yet again but she did.

On that visit, a different Doctor entered the room, sat down and asked the NFO a long list of questions and she answered them all.  The Doctor must have asked her three times if Paco had a fever (he didn’t) and repeated other questions.

In her mind, it appeared he wasn’t really listening to the answers.  When she asked him, what could be causing the vomiting and whether he recommended any tests (my brother-in-law, also a pediatrician, had recommended a stool sample be taken), he shrugged his shoulders and said (and we quote) “I dunno.”

The NFO requested a stool sample scrip and the Doctor gave one to her but the visit provided absolutely no added value or relief to Paco.

More importantly, it gave the NFO the distinct impression that the Dr. couldn’t care less and wasn’t willing to put any effort into healing our son.

There have been a few other examples of this type of non-care, the most egregious of one was when one of the doctors prescribed amoxicillin for one of our kids even though her chart clearly indicated she was allergic to it, because she had had an extremely violent reaction previously and it could now be fatal to her.

Despite that, a few months later after a positive strep throat diagnosis, we went to the pharmacy after the Rx had been called in...only to see that it was for amoxicillin.

So....given this recent pattern and the last Doctor's total non-chalance/disinterest/poor bedside manner, I was pretty irritated when I got a bill for Paco's vomiting visits saying that I still owed the $105 (after insurance's part was paid).

I called the billing office up (and wrote a very detailed letter) and said basically, "look, I've been paying bills to you for 12 years...that's a lot of money...given all that has recently transpired, in good conscience, I can't pay this bill. It has been a series of horrific customer/patient experiences and I need to know you care."

Their answer?

Basically, "go to hell, we're sending this to collections."


  • What would you do?
  • What can you do?
  • Should we just "suck it up" and pay?
  • File a complaint with the state board of physicians?
  • Am I overreacting?

Obviously, leaving the practice is at the top of the list, but as someone who spends his days working to help companies give great customer experiences, it just rubs me the wrong way and my sense of consumer justice is violated.

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