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A Piece of My Mind
November 17, 2010

Secret Shopper

JAMA. 2010;304(19):2103-2104. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.1666

Resigned and cooperative, but with little enthusiasm, I arrived at the endoscopy suite five minutes early. Ill for months, I had exhausted plausible explanations for my symptoms and been forced to acknowledge the wisdom shown by Dr T, my gastroenterologist, who had decreed the need for a colonoscopy. Without his gentle insistence I would not have acquiesced. So, on this day I was simply a patient in need of his care.

An impossibly young and fully prepared receptionist promptly searched her daily list for my name. When her query to me prompted my first recitation of a data set that must have matched her paperwork, including my spelled-out names, birth date, and the procedure I was to undergo, she clasped the familiar plastic bracelet onto my wrist, capturing me. As a physician, being in the right place among the proper personnel was reassuring. More than that, the requisite paperwork had successfully traversed the system—a nontrivial feat. Bravo! But as a person not exactly looking forward to the morning's adventure, I found the receptionist's demeanor and lack of eye contact wrapped me tight within a cold, impersonal cocoon. I was a subject. Though I hadn't shared my sentiments with anyone, I felt both vulnerable and completely sheepish about having a very human reaction to such a common procedure. But this was my bottom and I was not happy to share it with others. Here to be exposed and invaded, in truth I was embarrassed and sought compassion. As anyone else would, I wanted to know that my discomfort, self-consciousness, and loss of control were understood. Instead, she exuded efficiency and delivered transparent quality assurance and poise.