Over the years, I’ve noticed a trend in the suggestions that the on-call advice nurses provide. Every advice nurse that I’ve ever spoken with has ultimately told me to go the ER. You could call and say you felt great, and the nurse would still tell you to go to the ER. I’m not joking. I have proof.
As new parents, my husband and I are occasionally unsure about whether or not the baby has a problem. Should we be worried that she vomited? Are those streaks of blood normal? Why is she suddenly squeaking? Most recently, we wondered if we should give her some Tylenol to ease her teething pain at night, and if so, how much. Thinking that it was an easy win for the advice nurse, I called. The conversation was ludicrous. I’ve transcribed it, to the best of my memory, below:
Nurse: Hello. My name is Amy. Are you in psychological or physical distress?
Me: No. I just need to confirm the proper Tylenol dosage for a baby weighing 15 and a half pounds.
Nurse: If you are in distress, please call 911 immediately or go to the nearest ER. Do you need directions to the nearest ER or to be connected to 911.
Me (slightly puzzled): No. I just need a dosage confirmation for my baby’s medicine.
Nurse: Ok. I am legally obligated to ask you a series of questions before giving advice. Is that ok?
Nurse: Great. How old are you?
Me: Well, the question is about my daughter. She’s 7 months old.
Nurse: Ok. How much does your son weigh?
Me: It’s my DAUGHTER. She weighs 15 and a half pounds (at this point, I am getting a bit annoyed, having stated all of this information in the beginning.)
Nurse: Does your daughter have a fever?
Nurse: Does you daughter have a runny nose?
Me: No. She’s teething.
Nurse: Is she having a seizure?
Me: (wearily) No. She’s teething.
Nurse: How do you know that it’s teething?
Me: She has two big bumps on her upper gums and she keeps putting her hand in her mouth to rub them while she cries. She’s drooling. And… you know… she’s 7 months old.
Nurse: Can she stand on her own?
Me (slightly baffled): No….
Nurse: If she cannot stand on her own, I advise you to take her to the closest ER immediately.
Me (now completely annoyed): She’s 7 months old. Why would she be able to stand on her own? She can barely crawl!
Nurse: I’m sorry ma’am, but if the patient cannot stand, I am legally obligated to tell you to take her to the ER.
Me: Well, before I do that, can you tell me the proper dosage of Tylenol for a 7-month-old baby?
Nurse: No ma’am. I am not allowed to give dosage or treatment advice.
Me: So….what is it that you do exactly?
Nurse: I provide a screening service to determine whether or not you should seek additional medical help.
Me: And you think that I should seek additional medical help for a teething baby.
Nurse: I am obligated to tell you to do so. Yes.
At this point, I hung up.
While this experience was a particularly egregious case, I see this type of pretend service a lot. Companies advertise online or call-in features, but when you try to use them, they either do not really exist or are bad that it is the antithesis of service.
It doesn’t drive customer acquisition or retention, because it becomes very obvious very quickly that the “service” in question is useless. No one is going to think, “Oh, I’d like to change health insurance plans, but mine has that useless nurse that I can call and chat with at 3 am. I’d better just stay with what I’ve got.”
It doesn’t provide cost savings. Hiring thousands of registered nurses that instruct people in mild discomfort to clog an ER is a waste of money on many different fronts.
All I can some up with is that we’re playing a lemmings game (yes, I know that lemmings don’t really run off cliffs together and that Disney producers back in the day were supposedly really good at herding…) I think that companies see a competitor advertising services like advice nurses and online chat and they rush to implement without thinking. The result? A bunch of very costly, horrible, half-assed services that drain money and drive away customers.
I beg you wide world of business — before you implement something because a competitor offers it, think it through. Whether it be a newsletter (always unbelievably boring and useless) or an advice nurse who cannot legally give advice, save your money and spare your customers the annoyance.