Dear Imprudence: The Unmannerly Doctor

This week’s Miss Manners featured an interesting piece of embedded content which I think that a lot of readers probably skimmed over. The main letter of the week was a complaint from a reader about online review sites. The reader felt that such sites are injurious to the reputations of the professionals and businesses reviewed, saying: “People who expect and deserve good service from the business they patronize politely bring any shortcomings to the attention of the owner/manager and give them a chance to rectify the situation.”

The part of the letter that interested me was this:

I, personally, am horrified by the bad reviews I see. The revered and highly respected ob-gyn who successfully steered me through an extremely difficult twin pregnancy was given a one-star review by someone who visited his office once.

She announced to him she had decided not to have children. He engaged her in what he thought was harmless banter. She flounced out and gave him a scathing review. He lost patients. I just related this story to strangers at a coffee shop, and they immediately knew who the doctor was and were amazed that he had a bad review from anyone!

Does this look familiar to you? “…everyone likes her so much, and she is well known for being very good at what she does.”

Miss Manners made several important points in her response, including a pointed reference to the fact that it’s often aggrieved business owners who complain most vociferously about online review sites, usually only after receiving bad reviews. One of the things she said was: “But not every person or company is conscientious — or even reachable. Reviews have been a much-needed outlet for those who have been given the Your-Call-Is-Important-to-Us runaround.” From my own experiences with businesses which have given extremely bad service or failed to meet my needs, I’d echo this; it is sometimes really hard to get anyone to pay attention, but when you blare the name of a business on the front page of your website, suddenly you get attention.

And, of course, for people with disabilities, there may be barriers to making complaints in person. Miss Manners unfortunately reinforces the idea that people always need to complain in person first, but at least she admits that it’s not the only option.

But the more important and FWD-relevant point was this: “Miss Manners considers it injudicious, at best, to banter with a patient over an important and emotional issue.” I wish that she had expanded upon that a little bit more. Because the original letter illustrated for me a very common attitude; “harmless banter” can’t hurt, so people who “flounce” are clearly just overemotional. Plus, everyone else likes the doctor, so clearly he couldn’t have done anything wrong.

As Miss Manners rightly pointed out, the doctor did not behave appropriately. The patient was well within her rights to be upset. And we have no way of knowing; perhaps she said “Doctor, I find this really inappropriate” and he kept going, or did not apologise. Perhaps she called the office to say “I was extremely disconcerted by the way I was treated when I came in for my appointment” and received no response. Or “Well, Doctor Obgyn is a joker! Haha! Everyone just loves him!” And maybe then, only after she had tried several times to get some kind of resolution, she turned to an online review site. We don’t know that. Maybe she tried being polite first and it didn’t work.

What we do know is that a woman went to a doctor for some medical care, and what she got was “harmless banter” which upset her so much that she evidently felt unsafe in the doctor’s office and left. And she was upset by that, and she wanted other people who needed medical care to know about how she was treated. And I am glad that Miss Manners pointed out that the doctor’s actions were inappropriate, full stop.

About s.e. smith

s.e. smith is a recalcitrant, grumpy person with disabilities who enjoys riling people up, talking about language, tearing apart poor science reporting, and chasing cats around the house with squeaky mice in hand. Ou personal website can be found at this ain't livin'.

9 thoughts on “Dear Imprudence: The Unmannerly Doctor

  1. Perhaps ironically, Miss Manners always strikes me as the most progressive advice columnist out there. She also always has good advice for responses to people who ask rude and invasive questions.

  2. Oh how familiar indeed!

    Not that this is the best format for an update…but I did complain about my bad experience to the patient advocate at the hospital. A week later the advocate calls me back to tell me that the Nurse Midwife admitted freely to all the things I said and that she apologized to the advocate…let me say that again…

    apologized to the advocate

    and never made any effort to apologize to me, because she maintained that it was her right to assert her opinion over my care. And the advocate agreed…and only understood what I was saying when I told her that this person is using incorrect information to advise other women.

    We turn to these mediums because no one else is going to demand respect for us. If our hospital had something like a review site that I could use, I would sure as hell use it to rate a doctor who is using false information to make patients jump through hoops to get what the need or want, and then not even apologize to them when they are rude and condescending.

    A personal apology is too much to ask.

  3. Miss Manners is pretty awesome. My family has the big book which I think is from the 70s, so the views expressed by the letter-writers were pretty conservative. When I was about 12, my favorite exchange was:

    Q: How should one respond when introduced to a homosexual “couple”?
    Miss Manners: “How do you do?” “How do you do?”

  4. So gossiping with your friends about an event that you weren’t present for is much more polite than writing a negative review? Um…OK. Hey, I’ve got it, if you like the guy so much, instead of just taking the rumor you’ve been fed as pure gospel and slandering a total stranger, go ahead and write your own ass-kissing review! Amazing how that works, isn’t it?

    …See, this is why I don’t write advice columns. I almost wonder if this event actually happened and if it’s just the writings of an egomaniac doctor who can’t handle criticism. I find that just as far-fetched as the events in the letter.

  5. Err, I was referring to the gossip angle, not what the doctor did. I believe doctors are capable of being idiots. That just sounds like such a bizarre conversation, with the “flouncing” and all that.

  6. He lost patients over somebody else complaining? Huh? Don’t get me wrong, the BBB is a pretty skeezy “service”, but one bad review isn’t going to sink a doctor that everybody just loves (and what do you want to bet that everybody who loves him also has/intends to have children, and hasn’t found out how he might act towards a childfree woman?).

  7. Judith Martin/ Miss Manners is pretty big on disability rights. In her 1982 novel, Gilbert, she predicted the eventual passage of the ADA.

  8. Really interesting post, thanks.

    I’ve been thinking about the ‘Everybody loves Dr. Whatsit!’ issue a lot, because I recently heard a negative report about a doctor who treated me for years and who was adored by his patients to a degree I’ve never seen before.

    It bothered me to hear that he’d wrongly assumed this other patient didn’t take care of herself, because I’ve always seen him as a good listener and as an exceptionally good doctor in contrast to a mixed bag of colleagues. Then again, I didn’t doubt what she said. And I’ve also had bad experiences with a doctor who had a good reputation.

    It’s especially important within the disabled community to acknowledge peoples’ bad medical experiences, I think…

  9. Ang: Though this isn’t about disability, I can’t help but think of my FIL right now. He was, by all accounts, a great doctor, loved by his patients, and many in the community were disappointed when he stopped practicing. His wife and kids have very different stories about him 🙁 Nothing like having to grin and bear it when people talk about what a great doctor he was.

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