Sunday, November 30, 2008


Here's a tip to all service providers, from retail establishments and contractors to teachers and medical professionals: If you say that you're going to do something, do it.

Now, this isn't a call for these professionals to do any more than they're already doing, and it's not a swipe at the quality of care being offered. Instead it's a demand -- when it comes to doing something you commit to do -- to put up or shut up.

A reader from Columbus, Ohio, recently booked an examination with her physician. During the exam several tests were performed, and shortly after the appointment she called to ask for the results of these tests. She was told to call back a week later. When she called back, a nurse did tell her the results. My reader wanted to know if she would get a fuller report in writing, however, and the nurse told her that she would get it by mail, but that it would take some time.

Several weeks after the initial exam, no written test results having arrived, my reader called again. The nurse told her that something must have happened to the report in the mail, and said that she would send it again.

Once again, however, my reader never received the results.

She has gone online to find a "Patient Bill of Rights," which she plans to print out. Then she'll write a note demanding her test results and take both documents in person to the doctor's office to get a copy of her test results.

"What do you think of putting a patient off," my reader asks, "not giving the patient what is rightfully his or hers? This smacks of unethical treatment, especially when the matter could be serious/important to one's health."

If the doctor's office indeed was putting off my reader, or if it merely takes a long time to send off test results, that is certainly a nuisance for my reader to deal with, but I'm not convinced that it would rise to the level of unethical conduct. Everything that inconveniences us cannot be chalked up as unethical. Some things are simply a pain in the neck -- not my reader's medical issue, by the way.

Granted, our need to know about medical issues is far more urgent than our need to hear back from a contractor for whom we've been leaving messages. But not getting information or service as fast as we want it doesn't usually indicate a moral failing on the part of the provider.

Where my reader does have a legitimate ethical beef, however, is with the nurse who told her that she would send the material and then apparently didn't follow up by sending it. If she had no intention of sending the material, she should have told my reader so and also told her why. Or, if she didn't plan to send the results for several weeks, she should have told her that.

To promise to do something that you have no intention of doing is lying, nothing more or less. None of us should feel cozy about doing business with anyone who lies to us to get us off their backs. The right thing to do, for the nurse and for all service providers, is not to make promises they don't plan to keep.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

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