Recently, I changed my primary care physician because my doctor announced his retirement. When I went for my first appointment, a smiley young man in the front office handed me a clipboard full of documents and asked me to fill them out and sign.

On about page seven, I was asked to sign to acknowledge that I had read the privacy policy and the financial responsibility policy. I flipped through all the pages on the clipboard and could not find either. When I asked the smiley young man for copies of the policies, he dug around in a bottom drawer and, with some effort, found some crumpled papers and handed them to me.

The fact that they were not readily available makes me think that a lot of people aren’t asking for them. That most people sign off stating they have read the policies when they have never had a copy of them to read.

When I went to the dentist, she had a fully electronic system (no clipboard). Her smiley person at the front desk asked me to sign on a fancy electronic box to affirm that I had read her policies and agreed to them. Problem was, I hadn’t. When I did ask for them they were promptly printed and handed to me. When I sat down to read them the smiley person at the front desk said, “you’re gonna read those?” somewhat incredulously.

Then when I went to get a vaccine, same experience – except this time I was signing off on manufacturer disclosures and known side effects.

Hey doctors! Stop asking me to lie.

At best, it is an unethical practice to ask patients to affirm that they have read something that you have not given them to read. I suspect that in cases of financial disputes, you are also asking your staff to lie. When a patient says they never saw your financial policy in response to not paying your bill, isn’t your smiley person at the front desk going to say, “Well I gave it to them and they signed off on it.” Beyond an unethical practice, this seems like it might be crossing over into an illegal practice as well. Fraudulent inducement perhaps?

Wouldn’t the best practice simply be to give every patient a copy of every policy that applies to them BEFORE you ask them to sign off on it? For most people, you could email it before their office visit so that they can read it early and not have to suffer the incredulity of your smiley office staff when they read it in the office.

Wouldn’t the best practice be to stop asking your patients to lie?


Brandon Blankenship
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