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.


  1. Brandon,

    I agree with you completely. There is something very attractive, yet unsettling to a doctor offering a “coupon” for tardiness. You wrote quite clearly how well you were impressed…and you should be. In my opinion, you are comparing “apples to oranges.”

    You should be comparing the service you received with a similar imaging center, but not your practice. The imaging center is no different than choosing where your patients buy their prescription medications. If CVS/Walgreen’s were to give a gift card for waiting too long, would you necessarily be comparing their service to your medical practice? I bet not.

    I think you should feel awkward about offering a “coupon” to your patients. I agree with your misgivings. I believe your patients will indeed start to expect such rewards, and worst of all, you’ll ultimately be discounting your value (gift card vs. treatment plan).

    Good article.



    • But aren’t we in the service industry as well? Are we exempt from customer service because we work in private practice?

      Thanks for stoping by and leaving a comment.



  2. David Hoffman, DO says:

    I think that the gift card was a great idea. I think in health care we often feel that running behind is the norm, and our clients just need to expect to wait. I am often guilty of that myself. However, we should acknowledge that true emergencies don’t happen every day. Instead, running behind is usually caused by poor scheduling or inefficiencies in our processes from check in to check out. It isn’t the patient’s fault that you double booked and the expected no shows actually came in. To answer your question, I think a token of appreciation for inconveniencing people is good customer service, and it won’t bankrupt you if running late becomes rare. (Now, if anyone has tips on keeping to a timely schedule, I’d love to read them.)


  3. I think the gift card idea is a great idea for any service based business to use to appease a customer who has not had a good experience. Yes, clinics are in the service business.

    It is just unfortunate that under the current healthcare market structure there is not as much competition as there could (emphasis on could be, I realize that there is some competition) be between clinics. Whenever there is no or little competition due to government intervention or third party actors customer service always gets thrown out the window.

    I volunteer with a court monitoring agency. The courts in my county and in most counties are notorious for starting hours late. And I am not talking about parking ticket hearings, I am talking about serious hearings involving children, domestic abuse, and sexual abuse. But since the courts, judges, prosecutors, and attorneys do not need to compete for customers, no one cares.

    I do not think clinics are as bad as the courts, but they share some of the same lack of negative repercussions for providing bad customer service. The switching costs for patients are high when changing clinics, also, unless the new clinic is in network the patient may not be able to switch. If patients could switch clinics as easily as they switch coffee shops from day to day, surly clinics would not run late as often as they do so even if they did give away gift cards, it would not happen very often.


  4. Lauralee Circle says:

    Customer service should be always at priority of any business that offers products or services. “”`:`

    Our very own blog