Doctor Curmudgeon: It’s High Noon at the Front Desk

doctor curmudgeon, dr curmudgeon

Ah yes.  The Front Desk.

A smile in the voice, a welcoming, “Doctor Curmudgeon’s Office.  This is Scheherazade.  How may I help you?”

Stop! Listen!

It can be a War Zone.

It can be a Funny Zone.

It can be an Idiocy Zone.

But, whatever it is, at that moment, it is a Zone where calmness, patience and professionalism must prevail.

I have culled and combined some choice things that my assistant has heard and may well hear in the future. There are no names presented here and they are not exact quotes, but are mused upon from the sometimes imperfect memory of a practicing curmudgeon.


My dog ate my prescription.

My Vicodin fell in the toilet

My pills fell on the floor and the cat peed all over them.

I met a nice guy in a bar, so I took him home and he had no right to look in my medicine cabinet, but he did, and then I realized he stole all my pills.

My jeans were tight and I reached into my pocket to pull out my pill bottle and all the pills rolled out and I was in line at Kmart and everybody stepped all over them.

When I got out of the car, my purse was open and the car started to roll and crushed all my pills.

I have to talk to the doctor immediately, this second.  I finished my last blood pressure pill yesterday and she has to call it in right now because I am waiting at the pharmacy and I have no time to sit around because I’m supposed to go to lunch with my best friend, and we want to make a movie…so you have to get her right away…I am waiting.  And I need my medicine.  So tell her to hurry up.

And, of course, there is the patient who calls every half hour to review his/her lab work.  And each time this person calls, she/he is told that the doctor is returning calls after five and the message is on the doctor’s desk. Yet this patient keeps calling all day…all day….all day….

Welcome to the World of the Front Desk where it is always High Noon.


Read Doctor Curmudgeon as she talks about “Yes Virginia, there is still joy in medicine.”


Diane Batshaw EismanDoctor Curmudgeon is Diane Batshaw Eisman MD, FAAFP, a Family Physician, writer, voiceover artist, and medical educator. It was in the Neolithic Era that the doctor became renowned for expertise in Trephination. After so much time in practice, Doctor Curmudgeon is now cranky and has rightfully earned the honorific of “Curmudgeon.”

Doctor Curmudgeon has no idea of what will appear in this space. It depends on the Good Doctor’s mood and whatever shamans and doctors are channeled at the moment.

As a curmudgeon, I may stray from what I observe happening in medicine and slink into other areas. But that is the prerogative of a Curmudgeon.  Please check out my first book, “No Such Agency.”


28 thoughts on “Doctor Curmudgeon: It’s High Noon at the Front Desk

  1. Alan J. Lewis |

    Right -On, Dr. Curmudgeon!!
    While I was growing up, High Noon always signified for me, a “show-down” between 2 gunslingers in the many towns that made up the Wild, Wild West. You hit the nail on the proverbial head when you say High Noon does not have to be a confrontational situation where someone “lives” and someone dies.” The people who “man” or “woman” the Front Desk , must be schooled in people-pleasing skills and need to regularly implement total patience, calmness and professionalism…… and those Front Desk people should never negate the personal stories or feelings of those who come before them. They need to simply say, “We do understand your predicament and your feelings and we will try our best to help you”. That type of statement goes a very long way to de-escalating the High Noon — live or die mentality.
    Alan Jay Lewis, Esq.

  2. Eugene H. Eisman, MD |

    Just the story to illustrate that sometimes we are completely ignorant about what goes on at the front desk:
    About 20 years ago I was talking to a gastroenterologist who was telling me he is moving his practice.

    My gosh, how come? You just moved into a new office.

    Well, he replied, we are just not seeing enough patients. I guess there are too many GI docs in this town.

    Wait, I replied, it takes me weeks to get a patient in to see you. How can this be true.

    A few days later he called me. Well, our meeting got me thinking, and I found out that my front desk was not scheduling any patients after 3PM because they liked to get home early.

  3. Diane |

    didn’t it occur to the front desk, Eugene, that if there were no patients…there would be no job?

  4. Naomi B |

    I applaud those who can efficiently, patiently, gently, intelligently and calmly run that front desk.

  5. Ivonne |

    OMG! Occasionally I like to hang out with the ladies up front to listen to the calls coming in. They are hysterical, sometimes downright maddening. Once in a while I feel so bad for my ladies that I grab the phone and take the call myself… And I have been known to tell the caller I am hanging up right now if they’re off their rocket. My employees are too nice to do that. I can get away with it.

  6. Diane Eisman |

    I do that, too, Ivonne and I can hear that my assistant is having a rough time. The patient asks to speak with me and suddenly, is very sweet and kind. Grrrrrrr. Be nice to my staff!. Rudeness and screaming at them is unacceptable behavior

  7. DA Rydland MD FACOG |

    It’s amazing to sit and listen occasionally to one side of the conversation. “Princess”, who runs my front office, should get a medal for putting up with some of the things she does.
    “Sir, the doctor is a gynecologist. She does not take male patients.”
    “Ma’am, our doctor really can’t help you with pain in your shoulder. She’s a gynecologist. You understand what that is?”

  8. Diane |

    That is so true.

    Or people think I am a pediatrician because I am a woman

  9. Colleague in Arms |

    Can’t I pay the doctor on a time plan? Ya know, like in installments or something?”
    “Yes, certainly you may. That’s called putting it on your credit card.”

  10. Diane |

    Funny, colleague in arms.
    Had a patient the other day who simply lost the check they had made out to us….somewhere in our office……where? It was never found. But patient said he will bring it in on the next visit in about three monthsd

  11. Siberian |

    Hilarious! I’ll bet that if doctors asked their staffs to jot down the outrageous, funny, or just plain weird explanations that they hear, they’d be amazed at some of the craziness that goes on at the front desk when they’re back in the exam rooms seeing patients.

  12. drpamfp |

    My desk is right in the middle of the front office so I can see and hear it all. Amazing the idiocy that comes out of people’s mouths. My most recent favorite was the patient who insisted I bill her insurance for a physical required for a new job. When I explained that she had already had a physical this year and I couldn’t bill another until a year and a day had elapsed from the last one, she got on the phone with her insurance company who, of course, assured her that it would be paid. They told her that I just didn’t know how to code!!! Now I’ve been in this business for quite some time and I knew that was a bald faced lie. I offered to do the physical for $50 (my cash rate), but since the patient was told it was covered, she refused to pay and decided to take her business elsewhere. Why she would believe those scum sucking insurance fools over her doctor is beyond me….

  13. Diane |

    Dr Pam,
    I can really feel your pain. Happens all the time in our office. It is as if we are not respected and do not deserve to be paid for our time.

  14. docmom2 (Peds) |

    I don’t hear too many horror stories in person, bc when doctor is in earshot, patients act nice according to our staff.

    I remember being told by staff that as a parent of a patient complained about a bill to our front office desk attendant, the parent also mentioned in a huff something about the doctors’ cars being BMWs.

    I’ll also add that our front office personnel actually have written in my 360 evaluation, that I actually talk with them & get to know them & they like that. What a concept… being relational & respectful with co-workers & acknowledge them.

  15. Diane Eisman |

    360 evaluation? Have not heard of that, Docmom2.
    So important…being respectful and appreciative of the stafff. They have the brunt of it!

  16. docmom2 (Peds) |

    360 is where everyone in practice evaluates everyone else…it’s interesting! You get to hear from every staff member anonymously. I found the front office staff really appreciate being known by the doctors and nurse practioners. Helps their job be better!

  17. Diane Eisman |

    Never heard of it.
    Would love to hear what my staff thinks of me.
    But we are such a small office, I doubt if it could be as anonymous as I would like

  18. plastivdoc |

    my pet peeve is the patient who has the ‘balls’ to ask for free dressings when they don’t have the funds to pay for the initial office visit!!

  19. Diane |

    ah yes plastivdoc…and many want me to give them a box of gloves that they can use for cleaning!.

  20. Joy |

    Bill me for my copay. I hate those words.
    I need my prescription right now.
    I hate those words.
    You docs make so much money.
    I hate those words.
    I need an appointment now. (Even though I no showed and rescheduled a few).
    I hate those words.

  21. Diane |

    Actually, Calvin, I have is published and the first book in a doctor/murder/spy type series is up on Amazon

  22. George Grayson |

    When I was in private practice and my wife (who has an RN with a master’s) was my office manager, we usually kept front desk people (just one at a time, it was a really small office) four to five years before they moved on. We had two LPNs who stayed with us over ten years, till we closed. I was usually unable to hear what went on at the front window buy my wife heard a lot and shared some of it with me.

  23. Diane |

    My office is next to the front desk and I keep my door opened, so I do occasionally hear.
    Sometimes, people will complain about a conversation with one of my staff at the front and I have over head it, marveling at the patience and consideration of my staff.

    It still “blows my mind” that someone is treated courteously, with patience and professionalism and that patient will complain!!!

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