When Your Patient is Your Neighbor

June 7, 2018

When your patient is also your neighbor it can get, well, awkward. That's why Melissa Young, MD, has shared her tips on how to handle seeing patients outside of the office. 

We all have had patients who habitually no-show, those that call with non-endocrine related complaints, and those who demand that they be seen ASAP because they “feel awful and it has to be the thyroid.” We deal with them every day and it can be frustrating. But imagine if that one patient does all of the above and you know him or her socially. Awkward!

I work in the same town in which I live. I shop here, go to church here, my kids go to school here, and I volunteer at said school and church from time to time. And, as expected, I run into patients.

I generally do not initiate conversations because of patient privacy issues. I do not know who they are with and I do not want them to have to explain who I am. Many of them will say hello if they recognize me, although I am often not “doctor-y” when I am off the clock, walking around in what one patient called “camping clothes” (hey, jeans and plaid, are a thing!). And most of them will happily introduce me to their companions as their endocrinologist. However, while most of them will not make me talk shop outside the office, I’ve had a few defend the contents of their grocery cart (eg, pastries and ice cream) as being for the grandkids.

There are, however, those who feel that any time they see me is a good time to talk about their medical issues. Any requests for prescription refills I immediately, and truthfully, squash by telling them to call the office when it reopens because I am not going to stand there in the middle of aisle 10 to call in a prescription. If they think I am going to remember what they need and where it needs to be sent between the dairy aisle and checkout, they are sadly mistaken.

Recently, I was at an affair and was seated with a friend whose husband happens to have diabetes (not my patient). He was looking at his glucose sensor and she told him, “Don’t you dare talk to Melissa about your blood sugars; she’s not working now.” God bless her. Not that I would have minded talking to a friend about his health, but I appreciated the sentiment.

This was then underscored when the first patient described above (the no-shower who needed to be seen ASAP) walked up to me and said, “I’ve been trying to get an appointment in your office," to which I replied, “You had two appointments.” In retrospect, I think I should have said, “This is not the appropriate time or place to discuss this; please call the office on Monday.” But instead I just stood there dumbfounded when she retorted, “Yes, your staff made that very clear to me on the phone.” I just could not believe she had chosen to do this at a celebratory social event. Oh well. She will probably cancel her appointment when she gets her 2 no-show bills.

It is definitely convenient working 15 minutes from home. But it can lead to some unexpected awkward situations.