The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.

Last year during finals, when I should have been preparing for an Econ exam, I was interrupted by blackouts from searing pain. I had a toothache so intense that even sitting still for extended periods was a problem. So, instead of studying for my exam, I spent my time trying to get a hold of emergency dental services. I figured I would call Student Health Service — presumably even if they couldn’t help me, they could direct me to someone who could. When I called, I was put on hold and transferred several times. After about 20 minutes, I was finally told that there were no dental services and they recommended I talked to the School of Dental Medicine.

A phone call to the Dental School lasted almost as long, and the conclusion was that the earliest appointment I could get (yes — for emergency care) was two days away. They suggested I call the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania Emergency Room. Desperate, I did so and was redirected back to the Dental School (though not before being transferred me to various departments within the ER).

I was bounced around between various parts of the Penn medical system for the better part of three hours before a sympathetic soul in HUP told me to walk into the ER and ask to see a doctor. Ultimately, however, even that was poorly handled. I waited upwards of an hour before meeting a doctor who told me she couldn’t do anything for me. Under normal circumstances, this kind of volleyball customer service would be irritating. That I was a patient in extraordinary pain seeking medical help makes it that much more appalling.

Unfortunately, my experience isn’t unique. Ned Shell, a College junior, went to Student Health Service with a fever of 104 degrees. There, he was told that if he started vomiting, he should go to the ER. At 4:00 a.m. he walked into the ER, but was made to wait two hours before being put in a bed. While perhaps seemingly trivial, to a patient who is vomiting with a 104-degree fever, the discomfort of lying on a hard armrest between two waiting-room chairs is immense. And as he put it, “I still waited another hour in the bed before the doctor came to see me. And then they still had the gall to ask me how much pain I was in on a scale of one to 10!”

Shell ultimately did receive treatment, and commented that the quality of care was fine. Yet the customer service provided (or not provided) up to that point is abysmal.

From a moral perspective, it’s bad to leave patients suffering (and even worse to exacerbate their suffering). But more than that, from an economic perspective it’s bad business. In a world where quality of care is becoming comparable or better in developing countries, the differentiating factor is customer service. If customer service in medicine doesn’t exist at the point of treatment in HUP or elsewhere in the United States, then patients will take their business to other places that charge lower prices and provide infinitely better care.

This practice has already begun with medical tourism growing about 30 percent annually in India and even more in other Asian and Latin American countries. Hospitals in the United States can’t afford to be arrogant about their quality of health care, and must improve the customer experience to remain afloat.

Tanvi Gupta is a College senior from Southeast Asia. Her e-mail address is Cosmopoli-Tanvi appears on alternate Mondays.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.