Speed and efficiency were topmost in my mind, as I was discussing how to handle a patient referral with two of my co-volunteers, on a bright  Saturday morning at the Ashland Free Medical Clinic. A long-term patient at the clinic had been referred for specialty care to Highland Hospital, a  safety net county hospital.

Since treatment at the hospital is not free, we planned to have the patient enroll in a county healthcare program prior to the referral visit. Given the  urgent need, the two volunteers were to drive the patient to the county office very early the following Monday, for a specially approved walk-in enrollment appointment - while I would try and expedite the referral appointment at the hospital. From our perspective, we had the satisfaction of having come up with the most expeditious and efficient plan for the patient’s referral in the given circumstances. When we shared the plan with the patient, what transpired was completely contrary to our expectations. The patient became extremely incensed at not having been consulted earlier, and flatly refused to go along. While I felt exasperated with the patient’s reaction initially, it soon became apparent that despite the best of intentions and effort, I had inadvertently upset the patient - so, I sought advice from the Medical Director on how to remedy the situation. The Medical Director’s recommendation was to try and adopt a more compassionate approach based on Swami’s teaching - “First understanding, then adjustment.”

I approached the patient again, apologizing for not having included him at the planning stage, and wanted to understand his perspective. At this, the patient calmed down and explained that he was well aware of the county program, but would prefer scheduling the appointment at his convenience - and was uncomfortable with others accompanying him. It was much later that we became aware of the fact that the patient was a Medical Assistant, and had unfortunately lost his job and health insurance. This episode has helped me realize the importance of rendering service with the right attitude, focused more on patient satisfaction, than on process speed and efficiency. I  am extremely grateful to Swami, the Medical Director, the volunteers and the patient for the opportunity to learn how best to serve.


Please note: A media article (Click here), “The 15th year anniversary of the Ashland Free Medical Clinic: San Lorenzo, CA” was published in October 2020.