Gift Cards, MRIs and Customer Service

Last week I had to go to the hospital to get an MRI. My appointment was at 11:30 and as any outstanding member of the healthcare community would do, I arrived at 11:25. After I was registered, I was taken back to the imaging waiting area where I waited about 30 minutes before the tech showed up.

The tech was very courteous. She asked a series of medical questions and then she reviewed the process and allowed me to ask questions. She even shared a personal story about having to get into the MRI machine and feeling a little claustrophobic herself.

Amy also acknowledged that my appointment was at 11:30 and by that time, we were pushing 45 minutes behind schedule. She explained that there was a STAT request and the patient was posing a little bit of a challenge so it was probably going to be another 30 maybe 25 minutes before they could bring me in.

She offered another machine – the one that was less open – but because I’m too chicken, I decided to keep the one that I had originally requested, which was the one that was being used.

Amy did a great job of keeping me updated and notifying me how we were doing on time. Which I appreciated it. About 30 minutes later, they brought me in.

After the MRI was completed, the tech walked me out. She went over some instruction, explained how long it would take before they’d get the results back and that if I had any questions, I could call her (or a member of her team), directly. She wrote the number down on the card. A very nice touch.

Then she said she was including a $10 Target gift card for having to wait so long. 

I was surprised. I thought it was a very nice and unexpected touch. The kind that builds loyalty.

When I got in my car, I started thinking about the gift card, the waiting, and the excellent customer service I received.

I thought to myself, what if our office started giving out gift cards when parents had to wait longer than usual. How would that go over with them?

But then I thought, wait a minute. In healthcare, people are going to have to wait. It is not like we run a car wash where we can usher people in an out every 3 minutes. Besides, after a few gift cards, would parents start to expect them? 

I don’t know how I feel about the gift card.

On one hand, they wow’d me. They were courteous, helpful, informative and super nice. And in addition to that, they gave me a little gift that in essence acknowledges the fact that my time is valuable and despite their best effort, the delay was an inconvenience to me. That’s all from a patient/customer. But from a management perspective, I see it different.

Hospitals are certainly not places where people go in one door and out the other one after the other with little or no delay. Things come up, emergencies occur, unexpected things walk in the door all the time. So why should they apologize for something that is beyond their control?

Certainly we can continue to be empathetic, but apologize and reward people for having to wait?

Don’t get me wrong, I was truly impressed; I thought the gift card was awesome. And I thought it was a very good idea. But from a management perspective, I have a little trouble with this because I think it sets a precedent and a misleading expectation.

What are your thoughts? Do you think it was appropriate? Would you give gift cards to parents that have been waiting a long time to see you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

(This blog was originally posted on Pediatric Inc)

Brandon Betancourt is a business director for a pediatric practice in Chicago. He is a speaker, consultant and blogger. You can follow him on Twitter @PediatricInc or visit his blog at