The wrist I injured two days before Mother's Day is healing slowly. Despite weekly physiotherapy sessions and some acupuncture, I'm still experiencing pain along with limited strength and range of motion. It was time to look more widely for professional help.

So over recent weeks I've signed up as a new patient to two specialist healthcare providers. The way the required paperwork was sought and obtained in both instances could not be described as customer friendly. As my first point of contact with the organisations concerned, it did not make for a positive initial impression.

The encounters made me recall the lessons learned in a Services Marketing paper I'd studied as part of the University of Auckland's Diploma in Business 20 years ago. It was stressed in no uncertain terms that (in absence of a tangible product that can be taken away and used) the quality and nature of the whole experience was the main criteria by which a customer was able to form opinions about a service provider.

One example given during the course was of how passengers might assess the airline they are flying with. Unable to access relevant information such as the mechanical records of the aircraft and unable to consider the qualifications or skill levels of the pilots, passengers could only make assessments based on evidence before them. Hence, someone might judge an airline's level of safety based on something as random as how well the tray-table before them has been wiped clean.


In a similar vein I had firsthand experience at two reception desks that left me hoping the medical expertise on offer was superior to the level of customer friendliness. I arrived at the appointed time to the first place where the receptionist asked me whether my physiotherapist had faxed or emailed the referral letter.

"Gosh, I don't know," I replied. Silently wondering why she thought I would possess this information, I offered to try to find out and texted the physiotherapist's receptionist: "Hi ... did the referral letter ... get faxed or emailed please? I'm there now. Thanks". I was given a form to fill out. Mercifully short, it asked for little more than name, postal address and phone number. Even I couldn't complain about that.

My only gripe here was that (since 12 working days had elapsed between my booking the appointment and my turning up to the appointment) it seemed a little late to start tracking down the paperwork. To be asked about this at 11.15am on a Tuesday while standing at a reception desk when there was little I could do to remedy the situation seemed illogical. A simple text message to me in the days prior would have been a more measured approach. I've never been a fan of manufactured emergencies.

As it turned out, if I'd been a less literally minded individual I would have understood the receptionist's initial question about mode of communication really meant that the paperwork had not been received. I don't know the finer details since the two receptionists sorted this out via telephone and fax while I was being seen by the health professional. Looking back, I realise it wasn't ideal for me to have undergone this consultation while still moderately flustered about the paperwork (which I'd requested nearly three weeks earlier). It was the sheer needlessness of the miniature panic that had most discombobulated me.

Upon arrival at the second establishment I was handed three pages of paperwork to fill out. Aware my appointment time was approaching I was keen to cut corners. "I supplied phone number, postal address and email address over the telephone. Do I need to supply them again?" I asked. Evidently I did.

I was rescued from these clerical duties by being called in to see the health worker. I ended up taking the paperwork home and completing it in my office. It took me close to ten minutes. I put it in the post the next day. Again I wondered at the lack of willingness to plan ahead. Why could these documents not have been posted or emailed to me so I could have arrived prepared? Is some warped pleasure derived from asking for
documentation to be completed at an inopportune, time-pressured moment?

Full marks for being customer friendly and making a positive first impression, however, were awarded to Endoscopy Auckland when I needed gastroscopy earlier in the year. All the relevant information about the procedure was provided by email and I was able to complete the formalities online as if we were operating in some newfangled computer era rather than the dark ages. So when I arrived there was heaps of time spare for me to contemplate exactly what swallowing a camera might feel like. Perfect.

What's your experience of being processed by healthcare providers?