By Ted Pincus
Nobody’s there anymore – simply no one to talk to. There is a decline in American civility and it’s negatively affecting business. We’re increasingly convinced that the core of this epidemic is the lack of human interaction. In an age at the zenith of communications technology, we’ve essentially excommunicated ourselves.
“I’m not at my desk right now.” “The doctor is busy. Please leave a message.”
“Customer service” numbers are an oxymoron today. Even emergency numbers often greet the caller with impenetrable voice mail. In most companies and institutions, human contact is preciously reserved as a last resort. Mostly, we’re left isolated to tryst with cyber beings on an alien landscape. Most callers seem to agree.
But all is not lost. A combatant against the trend is Joe Sameh, creator of NeedMyDoctor.com, an Internet solution for millions of desperate people stonewalled by their doctor’s voicemail system.
“It’s not really the fault of the doctor, who is the ultimate humanitarian caregiver,” Sameh says. “It’s the dedication of his protector, the office manager, whose goal is to create a system to minimize distraction.
“Thus we see that the nation’s 650,000 doctors and 100,000 dentists typically receive over 100 calls per day, meaning that some practices have more than three hours of voice mail to tackle each day before responding to patient needs. An impossible situation.”
Sameh’s response has been to develop software that enables a patient to email his doctor with a specific category of request, such as a routine appointment – with date and time preferences – a question regarding medication, a follow-up to a prior visit, or a dire emergency.
Instead of confronting voice mail and a response that might entail endless phone-tag, the patient’s message goes to Sameh’s special call center, whose immediate task is to act. If the matter is routine, the center reaches the appropriate clinical staffer who arranges an optimal appointment date or secures a detailed answer and replies to the patient within 24 hours, guaranteed. If the matter is an emergency, the center can reach the doctor directly by cell phone or fax and trigger immediate action. Since launching the new system last year, Sameh has signed up more than 3,000 physicians.
Ted Pincus is former CEO/owner of the Financial Relations Board and vice chairman of its parent company. He is a finance professor at DePaul and an independent communications consultant and journalist. [This article appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times September 21, 2004; excerpts are reprinted here by permission.]
[From the February/March 2005 issue of AnswerStat magazine]