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Miscommunication: A Simple Explanation, a Not-So-Simple Solution

The patient came in to the clinic with a very definite purpose in mind about what he needed done. He had hearing loss and needed the wax cleaned out of both ears as he knew he had wax buildup. Because this patient has suffered from this before, he knew there was only one way to get the wax out and he must be seen in a clinic which carries a special machine.

Here’s how the conversation went.

Patient to Front desk receptionist, “Do you have the special machine here to get the wax out of my ears?”

Front desk: “I don’t know, let me check.”

Front desk to Back office nurse, “Do we do ear lavages?”

Nurse, “Yes, we do.”

Front desk receptionist to Patient, “Yes, we do. Have a seat and we will take you back momentarily.”

Patient waits to be called to the back exam room. After weight, height, pulse, and blood pressure and temperature are checked, nurse says, “So, you need an ear lavage today?’

Patient says, “No, I specifically asked if you had the MACHINE that cleans the wax out of ears. Ear lavages do not work on my ears.”

Nurse to Patient, “Oh I’m sorry but we don’t have that machine.”

What went wrong with this communication? Was the patient not clear enough? Did the front desk receptionist change the language? YES! The MACHINE is a highly specialized instrument the patient asked about. Ear lavage is a PROCEDURE using water to wash wax out of the ears.

The patient would have been saved the time and money if he had the name of the MACHINE he needed and had written it down for the receptionist.

Because the receptionist is not trained in medical language, procedures, or instruments, she changed his question about a machine to her own question about a procedure.

Office visit rule: Never assume the front desk personnel know medicine.

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