Imagine that you noticed that the tires on your car were getting bald. Your car was not driving well as a result. So you went to the one person you knew could help get you fixed up and back out on the road safely; a mechanic. You go to the repair shop. The receptionist tells you to take a seat and that the mechanic will be with you shortly. You wait for an hour. The mechanic finally calls you out and then spends about five minutes looking over your car. He then confirms your suspicions and tells you that the tires need to be changed. So he charges you for the inspection and then refers you to another mechanic down the road who specializes in tires. Seems crazy right? Or what if he changes only a couple of tires and tells you to come back in a couple of weeks to get the other two checked out, upon which you will be charged for another inspection, as well as another tire change? It seems ridiculous, right? That’s because it is.
Did you know that the most commonly reported estimate for a doctor’s time with a patient is 13 to 16 minutes? Approximately 10 minutes with doctor is about $68. Have a complex problem? Approximately 40 minutes with the doctor is $234. Typical co-pays for a visit to a primary care physician range from $15 to $25. Co-pays for a specialist will generally be between $30 and $50. And what does that visit feel like? Rushed? High pressure? Are you being listened to? Is the doctor really investigating the problem? Did you wait an hour before seeing the doctor? Did you even get to see the doctor, or was it one of the doctor’s “helpers“.
Sure, sometimes simply not going back to doctor that provides poor service is the path of least resistance and the appropriate response. However, sometimes a statement needs to be made and sometimes you deserve your money back. What doctors don’t want you to know is that they can and sometimes will give you the money back; you just need to provide them the good reason to do it. It’s simple: when you have received bad service or no service, sometimes a refund is in order.
Ultimately, you are paying for “care”. If the doctor does not provide it or if the doctor doesn’t really “care” and just takes your money, then you should attempt to get your money back. It’s the principle of the matter. Of course, many doctors take their fees for granted and will be reluctant to provide you the refund, but you wouldn’t pay for bad service anywhere else, so why are you expected to do so at the doctor’s office?
True, you might be in a for a fight in trying to get a refund, but you can win. That being said, you should probably understand that they will probably not refund your money if a treatment simply didn’t work. Treatment failure is not really their fault because at least they tried. If there is a malpractice element to it, a refund might be construed as an admission of guilt; so they won’t provide a refund there either. Of course, if there is a malpractice element, you should probably consult an attorney. I’m talking about that middle-ground; the grey area.
Before I go too much further, understand that once (and if) you get a refund from a doctor, it may be the last time you get to use that doctor, unless they already have a refund policy in place. This is because doctors usually do not have a “100% Money Back Guarantee”. If you get your money back, it may not be under pleasant terms and the doctor/patient relationship may need to be severed. This will be the case until the industry begins to see the value in the power of a refund.
To be objective, try to remember that doctors are not perfect. They are in-fact, human. However, I always try to remind myself that half of all doctors graduated at the bottom 50% of their class and you might actually be getting what you paid for. Still, it is a service that they are providing and you do have other options.
The point is that if you are attempting to get your money back from a doctor, you better have a very good reason for it. Ensure that you are really the victim and that the doctor’s office is really the “bad guy”. If not, this tactic could backfire on you and make you out to be the bad guy or set you up for litigation.
That being said (and again), a doctor needs to understand that they are providing a service. The key to any thriving business is a happy customer. If a doctor was not able to provide the service at the level they normally would or if they were not able to provide the service at all, or if the service was not provided at the agreed upon time, then perhaps a refund (or partial refund) is necessary. It’s not rocket science; it’s just good business.
As addressed before, this is usually not a thought that crosses a doctor’s mind. So what is the patient/customer supposed to do? It’s actually quite simple and summed up in five easy steps.
Step 1 – Politely Discuss it with the Office Staff
Talk to the office staff right away if you had a bad experience. Simply explain the situation for what it is and inquire about their refund policy. They probably will not have one, but explain that you feel a refund is necessary considering the circumstance. Be polite and expect to hear that they do not provide such refunds. If you are comfortable enough discussing this with your doctor, you can, but remember that situations like this are why the doctor has office staff.
– You Get the Refund
You may get a refund right away. If so, congrats! Your doctor is modern and forward thinking and the office staff really cares about you. Don’t take advantage of that policy though. Keep the relationship healthy and keep going to that doctor. You have found a rare one.
– No Refund Today
Chances are that you did not get the refund that you asked for. That’s okay, it was to be expected. Some offices try to exploit the fact that most people are ignorant. Time to move to step two.
Step 2 – Send a Polite Letter to the Doctor
As soon as you get home, write down the details of your experience. You don’t want to forget anything. Then, write out a very polite letter to the doctor’s office. This letter should be a simple letter that explains your position and requests a refund for the very specific reasons that you will list. This letter should be sent out right away. Save a copy for yourself and make sure it is addressed to the doctor, not the office. NOTE: The doctor will probably not read this – at least not at first. The office staff will review it.
– You Get the Refund
The doctor may or may not reach out to you. The doctor’s staff may or may not reach out to you. But you may find that a check comes in the mail along with a release form stating that you agree not to pursue a claim against the doctor. Congrats! You’ve won your refund. It took a little effort but you did it. No need to change doctors; clearly, your doctor cares about you AND your pocket book. Be loyal to this doctor. The doctor understands that the fee will be made up in the long run.
– No Refund Today
Chances are that you did not get the refund. You may have even gotten a denial letter. You may have gotten a phone call saying that they told you that refunds were not going to happen. That’s okay, it was to be expected. Make a note of it and save any letters and write down elements of any conversations that you had. Again, some offices try to exploit the fact that most people are ignorant. Playing a little hardball discourages quite a few from fighting much further. Time to move to step three.
Step 3 – Send a Follow-Up Letter with a Time Limit
Write another letter, very similar to the letter you wrote before. Only this time, you are including a sentence that states that you expect a refund within thirty days of the date of the letter. This is merely a formality and an escalation from where you were previously. You may also choose to politely say that you are willing to sign a release of claim but that a refund is of particular importance to you in this case.
– You Get the Refund
Congrats negotiator! How does sweet victory feel? This technique works in many other instances too (just FYI).
– No Refund Today
Ehh… you tried. You gave it a go. You may have gotten a denial letter again or personal phone call explaining what the policy is or what they want to do to make things right. This could include a waiving of a certain fee the next time they see you or a discount on a particular service. Or, they may just tell you to deal with it. Either way, you have a decision to make. You can accept it or move on to step 4.
Step 4 – It Has Begun
If you have walked into Step 4, you’ve probably lost your doctor. So one last time, you need to decide what is more important (your refund or your doctor). If you move forward from here, there is a very good chance that you will not have this doctor in the near future and you may still not get your refund. Don’t worry, if you don’t get your refund, you will have made it worth it. This is a negotiation and you must be willing to walk away from the table. It’s that simple. If you are willing to play the game, then here is what you do.
Write another letter, similar to the last letter you wrote. Like last time, you are including a sentence that states that you expect a refund within thirty days of the date of the letter. You will politely say that you are willing to sign a release of claim but that you expect the refund all the same. This time, your letter should also include a statement that says that failure to provide said refund “may result in the end of our doctor/patient relationship and may also result in official action against the office, sharing my story on social media and the advertisement of my experience within the community.”
– You Get the Refund
If you get your refund, it will more than likely be attached with a release of claim and a letter stating that you are no longer considered a patient. To appease abandonment issues, they will likely suggest other doctors in the area that you should speak to. It’s still a win though!
– No Refund Today
Not only have you not received your refund, but they have severed ties with you by giving you a list of doctors that you may want to speak with in the future. The good news is that now you have nothing to lose. Time for Step 5.
Step 5 – Follow Through with Your Promises
Before you do this part, you should be aware of libel and slander. Libel and slander are types of defamation. Libel is an untrue defamatory statement that is made in writing. Slander is an untrue defamatory statement that is spoken orally. Defamation is an area of law that provides a civil remedy when someone’s words end up causing harm to your reputation or your livelihood.
The point? You want to ensure that anything you say or do about the experience is 100% truth from your perspective. No bending the truth. No exaggerations. Keep it simple and keep it true.
Malpractice and/or Complaint with State Board
Write a letter to the state board and/or your attorney. If it is malpractice, this letter will go to your attorney who will guide you through the processes of bringing your case to court. If it is a simple complaint about service, then this letter will simply tell the state board about your experience. Discuss your situation in detail and be specific. This will be a formal complaint and will be marked on the doctor’s record so you want it to be as professional and specific as possible. Double check spelling, grammar and so on. Get help if you need it.
Launch a very specific campaign telling the world that you had a very bad experience with the doctor or office and that you would highly recommend that others avoid them. This is more than likely where you are going to get your justice. Understand that eighty-three percent of people say that they trust the recommendations of friends and family and believe that information is the most credible form of advertising, according to the Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising Report. If you can stop enough people from visiting that office, you will have made your simple refund much less expensive for that doctor in the long run.
Now, while you are at it, you might ask if anyone else has had a bad experience at that office or with that doctor. Get them to engage and share their experience along with you. You might open up a social media group that talks specifically about bad experiences with that doctor or office. The idea here is simply to make some noise.
Take your complaint letter or write up a brief overview about your situation and write a press release or give it to a local news station. Local stations are always looking for local news. This is a good time involve the others who have had similar experiences and get them to come forward. Collectively, you can ensure that others in your community are not subject to the same practices and treatement. Ultimately, fewer people will go to that doctor which will cost the doctor MUCH more than your refund would have.
Remember, it’s about principle. If you paid for a service that you didn’t receive… in any other situation, that would be considered a form of theft, bait and switch, or any number of other bad and often illegal things. Why would anyone in their right mind accept any less from an educated practitioner who arguably knows better and would expect the same in their personal life?
NOTICE: David Robertson does not provide legal advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for legal purposes. You should consult your own legal advisers before engaging in any activities listed herein.