One Saturday morning, I stood in this long line of customers at a local bank. I was the 18th customer, standing in this maze of bends and curves that hid the part in the line ahead. I occupied myself by estimating how long it would take to get to a teller and complete my business transactions. With two tellers, each taking an average of seven minutes to complete a transaction, I figured it would take about an hour to get to the front of the line. I really wanted to transact my business in person, so I continued to wait.
My preoccupation with estimating the length of my wait time was interrupted by the bank manager. I noticed him speaking to a few customers ahead of me. Some of the customers shook their heads and stayed in line; three left their spots and made their way to the ATM outside the bank.
When the bank manager got to me, I learned what he was attempting to do. He asked the nature of my bank transaction, and when I told him that I needed to make a deposit, he quickly suggested I use the ATM. He was even willing to show me how to do it. I graciously refused the offer and told him I wanted to do my transaction with the teller — that I preferred human contact.
As I was engaged in conversation with the bank manager, a woman in line pointed at me and exclaimed, “That’s my physical therapist right there! He will not use the ATM because his job requires that he connects with people and not just address what’s painful.” I think everyone in the bank turned to stare at me as she continued. “I wish that banks would do the same — connect with people, instead of pushing us to use a machine that we don’t trust,” she said.
Most of those standing in line seemed to agree with what my former patient said. Some said they had received physical therapy after undergoing knee or hip replacements and commented on how their PTs paid close attention to their treatment needs. Others shared their outpatient PT experiences and commented how their wait time for outpatient treatments were not as long as their wait times to see their physicians.
One bank customer said whenever he had a question about his home exercises, he was able to personally speak with his PT. The therapist even demonstrated home exercises via a Skype conference call. Thus, although at a distance, there was still human contact with his PT.
The bank manager seemed embarrassed and asked me how the PT profession was able to adapt well to technological advances and maintain their human touch. I said the answer is simple: PTs listen to their patients. We conduct a thorough assessment of the patient, prioritize what needs to be done and implement a patient-centered and evidence-based treatment plan to address the patient’s needs. I added that I believe the long line at the bank speaks volumes as to what his bank customers need.
As my line turned through a bend in the maze, I ended up in front of a magazine rack. A local magazine was turned to a page that featured a PT article about the use of robotics to deliver myofascial treatments. As the bank manager turned toward me with an impish smile, he asked what I thought about the article and how PTs can still maintain human connection when robots are now being used to replace our hands. My response was that I was certain the PT using the machine still took time to evaluate his patient, prioritize treatment goals and explain the rationale behind the treatment. The PT also probably set up the machine, adjusted it and monitored the patient during treatment. I explained that the patient was certainly not instructed to walk up to the robotic unit and conduct his own treatments, and I emphasized that the PT treatment session, while integrating the use of robots, isn’t like going to an ATM and having customers conduct their own transactions. Before the bank manager was able to respond, it was my turn with the teller. The customers who had witnessed everything that transpired over the last hour applauded enthusiastically.
I can honestly say that although I stood in line for an hour, when I left the bank that morning I couldn’t be more proud of being a PT and for showing someone outside our profession that despite technological advances, we can still deliver the healing touch.