Friday, July 29, 2005

I spent the week doing two different types of training. Even though I've been on board for two and a half months, I got signed up for the full-fledged IDX training class (the computer system we use to schedule appointments for patients, among other things), and I also attended a training class on our phone system.

The IDX class was helpful in some ways, even though by now I've already done the majority of the things that the class talked about. But I also got some shortcuts, thanks to the class, that I hadn't realized were possible.

For example, I had no idea that when we're looking through a doctor's open appointment slots, we can specify which days of the week we want to see. This is good to know, as we have some patients who work, take classes, receive dialysis or other treatments, etc on particular days of the week. Naturally, they want to visit doctors on their free day(s) instead of disrupting work schedules, missing class, and so on. And having seen how my late friend Joan was exhausted after her dialysis treatments, I wouldn't ever recommend a patient coming in for an appointment with us after they were dialysed, not unless they had a significant medical reason for doing so.

Anyway, instead of just searching through ALL of the doctor's open slots and visually picking out the ones on the desired day(s) of the week, now I can request those specific days of the week from the word "go" and avoid having to weed through unwanted results. The big stuff that the class covered, I already knew how to do by this point, but it's little tweaks like that which will make my workday that much easier.

Which brings me to the OTHER training I had this week: the phone class. During my four years as a temp, most of the assignments I had involved receptionist work and believe me, I saw a LOT of different kinds of phone systems. Only one or two times did I encounter a type of phone system that was used by more than one company.

Now, I freely admit that I'm a geek and that figuring out how to use various devices is one of my strong suits. I can't walk and chew gum at the same time, but leave me alone with a techie toy and no manual and I'll generally get the gist of what the thing does, if you give me enough time. So when I tell you that some of the things our phone system does are, to me, counter-intuitive, believe it.

For example, if I had my way it'd be a lot more forgiving to a person who pauses partway through dialing a number. If I'm trying to transfer a call to another department, or even to another extension within our own office, I have to dial at least the 7-digit number. Suppose I want to send someone to 555-1212. If I dial "555", then pause to double-check the final four digits, I only have about two seconds before the phone "gives up" on waiting for the next four digits and gives me a busy signal. So now I've got to start the transfer over again, and do so without serenading my caller with the fast-busy-signal. Nor do I want to hit the wrong sequence of buttons trying to get my original caller back, because as I discovered to my chagrin during my first few weeks on the job, you can easily disconnect someone by accident if you hit the wrong set of buttons in just the wrong order.

So anyway, I had been hoping that this class would be a primer on how to use THIS PHONE SYSTEM. No dice (though the training material we got does include a couple of mini-manuals for the most commonly used phones). It was more along the lines of what our health system's policies are for answering phones and so on. It's not exactly something I needed, but hey. It reinforced a lot of things that I learned over the years while temping.

The final exercise in the class was revealing, though not in the way that anyone intended. We used speakerphones to actually call back to our own departments and see how whoever was there was answering phones. And, of course, we evaluated if said phone greeting was up to snuff with health system standards ("Good morning/afternoon, [department name], this is [person's name], how may I help you?")

Five of our class's students were from the Central Registration department. That would be the department that patients would call in order to provide all pertinent information, instead of the limited amount of info that people like me can enter when we're adding a person to the system for the first time. For example, I can put in a person's name, SSN, phone number, and address. But I can't put in information about their primary care doctor, medical insurance, and a small truckload of other stuff that only Central Registration is allowed to do. Plus, once the information is in the system, I can't UPDATE it to, say, change the address/phone number of a patient who has moved. Only Central Registration can do that.

So we called Central Registration. On the speakerphone.

The first person who answered a call said "Registration"... and then hung up. HUNG UP. The ladies from that department were mortified. One explained that it was nearing the end of a shift, and each person has to make a certain "quota" of calls for the day. So perhaps the person was trying to artifically inflate their call tally by cutting off a caller. I'm guessing that person doesn't realize that there is software in place to measure not only how many calls a person receives, but how long they last. So if someone has a string of two-second calls, it WILL be trackable. Jobs can be, and have been, lost for such behavior.

We called back, again on the speakerphone. We got someone else. She also said "Registration" and hung up. OK, now we're 0-for-2. I felt genuinely sorry for my classmates from that department, who all felt about two inches tall after the way their colleagues back at the office had treated the phone calls.

One more call... the third time was the charm. This time it was a guy who gave the full phone greeting as described above, and actually STAYED on the line to do his job. He was as ideal of an example as the other two were terrible examples. And I suspect that there'll be a little chat between our class's trainers and the management of Central Registration about those two hangup calls. All it will take is for the Powers That Be to use the phone-tracking software to determine if anyone's got an inexplicably high number of far-too-brief-to-be-useful calls, and then have a word with them.

My own department call yielded a so-so result. "Rheumatology, how can I help you?", but no "Good afternoon" and no "This is [person's name]". Hey, it could've been worse -- at least she TOOK the call even though it was within minutes of the end of her workday.

Anyhow, those are the highlights of the week so far. Now I get to go back to the office today and use all these techniques. :o)

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

I probably shouldn't hit the SEND key on anything when I'm in this sour of a mood, but I feel the urge to document this anyway.

I guess it's so that if the dark cloud passes, I'll look back on it and be reminded that I came through stuff like this.

I have one more month to go before I pass the probation period. And now the politicking has apparently been going on in earnest. There is at least one person, who shall remain unreferred to by any specific identifying info in this post, who (word has gotten back to me) badmouths me to other coworkers every time there's an error.

Including HER OWN errors. She actually tried to push off three of her own mistakes onto me, and said that I did them. (Behind my back, that is. Not to my face.) Fortunately, our manager saw through THAT and told the chief of staff otherwise.

But it ticks me off. Why am I still dealing with this kind of crap? Four years of aggravation, looking for work and fighting off a few major depressive episodes into the bargain, weren't enough? Now I have to be THIS-CLOSE to having something dependable (if there is such a thing in the working world anymore) and someone's trying to pull it out from under me?

For no earthly good reason?

This same person has religious screen savers and inspirational quotations about Jesus and God's blessings posted all over the cubicle that includes the front desk. (Yeah, I know -- process of elimination should make it really easy to pick out who I'm referring to, if you know the general setup of the place where I work. But I have no desire to phrase myself in such a way that, say, a search engine would ever pick it up.) So what am I to make of someone who's got "Jesus" this and "God" that all over their workspace, but is two-faced to a co-worker?

Sometimes, like today, I wonder what is wrong with me that I can still be surprised at the spite people are capable of. One would THINK, after some of the stuff I've been through and/or witnessed in my life, that I'd have learned by now that there IS no lower limit on the depth to which people will sink.

And you'd think I'd have realized long ago that people don't NEED a reason to mistreat someone else. They don't need some logical explanation for what they're doing. If they feel like doing it, they will. PERIOD.

So how long will it take for the feeling of betrayal to wear off? What does it matter? Two can play at the "friendly to your face" game. The main difference is, I have no need to tear someone else down. All I need to do is withstand this next month of probation without screwing up or strangling a certain detractor, and I'll be fine.

I'm so sick of having to fight for every inch of progress I make. I don't even remember what it felt like to have job security anymore. It's like I dreamt it a long time ago and woke up to find it wasn't real after all. And after today's little kick in the head, I don't expect to feel like job security can actually exist any time soon, either.

This is the same kind of stress that caused my freakin' blood pressure to go out of control last year. Karla lent me a little home BP monitor when I first went on blood pressure meds. I'd better start using it on a regular basis again.

The dark cloud needs to pass soon, though, because I'm TIRED of feeling like this. Four years is way more than enough.

Saturday, July 02, 2005


Near stage

I didn't feel like dragging myself out into the heat in order to stand around and look at a crowd of people.

Mark actually DID want to see the crowd. So he took SEPTA to the Parkway.

He got a lot closer to the stage than I expected would be possible. Here's the shot he sent me from his camera phone.
I've noticed that people tend to choose their cheeriest outfit to wear to a doctor's visit.

It's been my M.O. for a long time now that even if someone's a complete stranger, if they're wearing a pretty color I make a point of telling them so. "That's a nice shade of blue", or "I like that purple", etc. This goes back to 1988, when a friend nearly died and it was impressed on ALL of us that our time here isn't guaranteed. So you might as well just pay the compliment instead of keeping it to yourself, total stranger or not.

Anyway, more often than not, the patient will not only thank me, they'll also mention that they'd intentionally picked that particular garment to brighten up their day.

I believe it. I mean, really -- who in the heck WANTS to be going to a doctor's appointment? Nobody *I* know. Moreover, the patients visiting a rheumatologist are making appointments because they've got a long-term condition, be it arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia, or other ailments that fall under the "Rheumatology Division" umbrella. Nobody in their right mind wants to have a condition that can only be managed, not cured. So I can see why they'd want to brighten their day up. It's a way of balancing the unhappy reminder that these medical issues aren't going away with the happy experience of seeing a cheerful color all through the visit to the doctor.

Patients really seem to be pleased when someone notices the outfit that they've gone out of their way to wear for the appointment. So you can bet I'm going to keep on mentioning when someone's wearing an especially nice color. :o)

That's not just our patients, either. Every morning, I bring our outgoing mail to the mailroom, which is located in the basement of the hospital, and retrieve our incoming mail. One day, as I was waiting for the elevator, three people came through the corridor in search of a way to get to a particular lab. (They appeared to be two family members or friends accompanying one patient, rather than three people who all needed to visit the same lab.) This was a few days after the Trenton Titans won the Kelly Cup, which is the ECHL championship; all three of the people were wearing T-shirts bearing the inscription TRENTON TITANS KELLY CUP CHAMPIONS 2004-05 and a Titans logo. :o)

You'd better BELIEVE I made a point of stopping THEM to congratulate them for the Titans' recent win. And I'm 100% certain that they were wearing those shirts as a collective pick-me-up. "Hey, having lab appointments and going to hospitals isn't any fun. But the championship was, so let's remind ourselves of THAT instead"... they might not have said it in so many words, but I'm sure that was the logic they were following.

Heck, if I was a patient right now, do you think I'd wear Phantoms "Purple Reign" regalia to the appointment, in honor of OUR championship? You bet your life I would!

In other work news... remember that individual I mentioned a few weeks ago, the one who was calling up and using profanity and making threats when we weren't able to instantly refill a prescription for pain meds? Apparently I started the job just in time to witness the proverbial "last straw". This turned out to be a person who had made similar calls and thrown similar tantrums in the past, on multiple occasions. Moreover, it's a person who was claiming to be out of medication who, as our doctors saw upon reviewing their chart, should have had plenty of meds remaining due to the prescriptions that their doctor wrote for them. Communication with the patient's pharmacy confirmed that something's definitely not right here, and the math just doesn't add up for this person's claim that they've run out of meds.

The practice has initiated the process of discharging this patient, which means that beyond a required level of followup care, we will not be treating this person anymore. My manager forewarned me that we might be subjected to similar angry phone calls when the patient receives the written notice of the discharge.

I feel sorry for this person, though. I understand why the practice is unwilling to continue subjecting itself to verbal abuse and threats, especially since I'm one of the two front-desk people. After all, we'd be first in line to defuse the situation if this patient actually DID show up in our office to cause some sort of confrontation. But I have a feeling that the patient's rheumatological condition is the LEAST of their problems (and that's saying something). I'm hoping that if the person is having a problem with dependence on pain meds, that they go and have THAT problem treated first. If they don't, they're at risk of having far more dangerous health issues than whatever they were having treated by our practice. Sad.

On a completely different topic... today is the big "Live 8" concert on the Parkway. It ages me to know that 20 years ago, I'd probably have been heading up there to see the concert. But now, I've got no desire to fight my way through the crowds, in hazy/hot/humid (and possibly rainy) weather. Am I getting old? Nah. Just practical. (That, and my digestive tract has more need to be in proximity of a REAL rest room instead of the port-a-johns that are sure to be installed along the length of the Parkway.) I have an air conditioned house and (unlike the original Live Aid) cable TV. I'll enjoy the concert from home today, thank you very much.

Whew, what a long post. See what insomnia'll do to you?