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when it’s time for a new car, i go through a grieving process because i love my cars – love them, i tell you. i drive my cars an average of 14 years, and log hundreds of thousands of miles on them. we have a relationship, my car and me. i take good care of my car, really good care. i keep her clean inside and out. i deal with only the finest mechanic – someone i was referred to by someone i love, someone who loves me back. my car gets her oil changed the first week of every quarter, regardless of what the little sticker says. i keep her in new shoes, new brakes, new batteries. i keep my car happy and she, in return, gets me and people i care about where we want to go and back. safely.

as much as i value my wheels, i find it odd that folks spend more time looking for a new car than they spend looking for a doctor . . .

when my husband’s blood pressure spiked for no apparent reason, we headed to the primary care office because the insurance company says we don’t know a thing about shopping for a cardiologist, and we might choose one that, given our particular policy, is out of our price range. we made an appointment, arrived 15 minutes before the appointed hour on the appointed day, then waited 45 minutes beyond the agreed-upon time to get some face time with the primary care doc. (not necessarily eye contact, mind you, but we do catch a glimpse of his face.)

in the precious 10 minutes allotted us, we asked for the name of a good cardiologist because obviously hubby’s heart’s gone wonky, and we didn’t study the heart in this context, in the classes we took, or in the lives we’ve led.

“give us a name,” we asked, “tell us who can help us.”

primary care filled out the paperwork and gave it to his “scheduling girl” without telling us the name or phone number of the person who will be calling us. we didn’t even talk about what criteria he used to decide that this one particular person is The One We Should See. does he beat you at tennis once a week, primary care? did she graduate at the top of her class? do you belong to the same church or investment club? or does this person you’re sending us to pay the highest referral fee?

we want the name of the person you’d send your mother or your dad or your wife or yourself to see.

a  week goes by, and we’ve heard nothing, so we call the primary care office and we’re told oh, they’ve been trying to call, but well, they’re just so busy, you know. when i point out that is the very last thing we want to hear, they are dumbfounded. (yes, i did take the time to explain.) hours later, we are informed that we have an appointment with somebody 2 weeks from now. oh – and by the way, it’s an hour away. nobody ever asked us if that would be a good day and time for us, if we’re even going to be in town, if we’re willing to drive. our time is obviously not valuable. our health and peace of mind of no concern.

primary care dude and crew, here’s the thing that’s overlooked far too often to suit me: we are your customer.

that’s right: i said CUSTOMER. i know you prefer the word “patient” because it’s familiar, and there’s something so elevated about it. “customer” is so common, and there’s not the embedded hierarchy as in the word “patient.”

well, we’ll take it from here, thank you very much. we’ll find our own cardiologist. we’ll ask family members who they would suggest we see. we’ll get a suggestion from knowledgeable people to whom we are more than a car payment.

we get permission from the insurance company, we make our own appointment, getting in more than a week earlier at a time that’s mutually convenient. yes, we’re still driving an hour, but it’s our decision. a choice we made.

we’ll see you soon, joe the cardiologist who studied the other workings of the heart. we’ll see you tomorrow, actually, and i want you to know this: i have spent more than half my life with this man. we have a mere 36 years’ worth of miles on us at this point. and we have miles to go before we sleep. miles, i tell you. chunks of miles.

consider our first meeting an interview. we’re not committing to a lifetime together – at least not yet – and you should probably know that i’m not afraid to fire doctors. i’ve done it before when my loved ones weren’t being well cared for. oh, and i should probably mention that we’re auditioning your staff tomorrow, too.

i’ve been told i have authority issues with the medical community. call it whatever you want, but i am not afraid to ask you to call me by my first name, and i’m equally unafraid to call you by your first name in return because that levels the playing field. i am not afraid to remind you that our differences right here, right now come down to the fact that we took different courses in college. i know you were taught differently, but then maybe you had an incomplete education. maybe they should have taught you the basics of customer service.

you are providing a service we are in need of. you have knowledge we can use. you weren’t born with this knowledge, you weren’t annointed with it. you simply did what the rest of us did to learn the invaluable things we know: you studied, you read, you took notes and tests, then you went out into the world and that’s when the real learning started.

some of the best business relationships are pillared by the same things that support other lasting, mutually-beneficial relationships: empathy, respect, listening, and genuine caring. those other workings of the heart that we‘ve studied, read about, took notes, and been tested on.

we may appear cool, calm, and collected tomorrow, but make no mistake: we are afraid. you’ve been around this block many times before, but it’s our first time on this particular corner. we want and need your knowledge. we want and need at least one good reason to feel confident in your abilities. we want and need a reason to trust you, to feel comfortable following your suggestions, and we don’t build that kind of relationship just by looking at the framed certificates hanging on your walls or the top of your head as you remain bent over your clipboard.

when we show up at your office tomorrow, here’s a little something to keep in mind: we’ll be kicking tires and taking you out for a test drive. i don’t care how many cup holders you have or if you have sirius radio, but i do want to give you some idea of what we’re looking for. i sure do hope you’re The One We’re Looking For, joe the cardiologist, because there’s not much i hate more than car shopping.