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.