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Doctor-Patient, Clients or Customers?

by Carolyn Elefant on March 22, 2006 · 6 comments

in Client Relations, Client Service, Legal Profession Trends

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Lawyers aren’t the only ones starting to focus on the importance of client relations (as evidenced by the proliferation of blogs like What About Clients and In Search of Perfect Client Service).  Peter Salgo, a professor of medicine at Columbia University, has this op-ed piece The Doctor Will See You Now for Seven Minutes in today’s New York Times (3/22/06) where he ponders whether pressure on health care costs has commoditized the medical profession and eroded the “doctor patient” relationship.

Salgo’s article points to little, imperceptible shifts within the profession, such as a young med student referring to a patient as a “55 year old male” rather than a man, reference to patients as “customers”  or  duration of hospital stays as “through put.”  To Salvo, this jargon reduces patients to a business school financial concept or items on an assembly line, rather than humans.  Salgo admits that restoring the doctor-patient relationship won’t save money, but that it doesn’t have to, because it can restore compassion and dignity to the medical profession.

As a lawyer, I know that serving clients is important and that clients complain that they don’t get the service they deserve. But maybe the solution isn’t client surveys or enhancing efficiencies or squeezing out every cent we can from clients, but little things like not charging clients every time we talk to them or taking the time to engage them in conversation or showing compassion or empathy for a client in a tough spot.  There’s something inherently human about the lawyer-client relationship, and for most of us, it’s that human element that makes the practice of law frustrating at times, but ultimately richly rewarding.

  • http://www.legalsanity.com arnie herz

    Carolyn, you’re right on with this post. Seeing “the human element” infusing the legal matters we handle is key to connecting with our clients. At legal sanity, we’ve examined lawyer-client relations through the lens of the medical profession a few times http://www.legalsanity.com/whats-the-problem-388-what-law-firms-can-learn-from-critiques-of-the-doctorpatient-relationship.html, asserting that lawyers can probably learn a lot from current discourse about the deterioration of typical doctor-patient relationships. FYI, the NYT provided similar coverage in this November 2005 article http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/30/health/30patient.html?ex=1291006800&en=c66eff1ecb203cbf&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss.

  • http://www.legalsanity.com arnie herz

    Carolyn, you’re right on with this post. Seeing “the human element” infusing the legal matters we handle is key to connecting with our clients. At legal sanity, we’ve examined lawyer-client relations through the lens of the medical profession a few times http://www.legalsanity.com/whats-the-problem-388-what-law-firms-can-learn-from-critiques-of-the-doctorpatient-relationship.html, asserting that lawyers can probably learn a lot from current discourse about the deterioration of typical doctor-patient relationships. FYI, the NYT provided similar coverage in this November 2005 article http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/30/health/30patient.html?ex=1291006800&en=c66eff1ecb203cbf&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss.

  • Mike Adams

    Carolyn, I agree with you that we need to focus on the personal side of our client relations rather than always on the business side. But I don’t see this as an either/or choice. I focus on “enhancing efficiencies” so that I can better utiize flat rate billing, which in turn allows me to focus on my clients rather than the clock.

  • Mike Adams

    Carolyn, I agree with you that we need to focus on the personal side of our client relations rather than always on the business side. But I don’t see this as an either/or choice. I focus on “enhancing efficiencies” so that I can better utiize flat rate billing, which in turn allows me to focus on my clients rather than the clock.

  • Seth Rogers

    True.
    But you also owe it to your clients and to your community to run a successful and profitable business that continues to serve and contribute to the community and clients.
    Who cares if a certain restaraunt gives top notch service if they’re out of business in a week?
    Being a bad businessperson is bad customer service.
    The mere fact that clients don’t seem extremely concerned about whether you are making a profit doesn’t mean you aren’t doing them a disservice by mismanaging the financial side.

  • Seth Rogers

    True.
    But you also owe it to your clients and to your community to run a successful and profitable business that continues to serve and contribute to the community and clients.
    Who cares if a certain restaraunt gives top notch service if they’re out of business in a week?
    Being a bad businessperson is bad customer service.
    The mere fact that clients don’t seem extremely concerned about whether you are making a profit doesn’t mean you aren’t doing them a disservice by mismanaging the financial side.

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