Did you know that one of the all-time most popular articles and topics at Concierge Medicine Today in the past decade is How to Write a Thank You Note? ~Editor
By Michael Tetreault, Editor
My son loves geology, rocks and magnets. When there’s a new rock in the school yard, we’re testing it out. But, did you know that every magnet has two sides: a north pole and a south pole.
So what happens when two magnets are placed side by side? The come together or they repel, right?
From a science book we learn that when two magnets are close to one another, we see that there is more pull force when the poles are facing in opposite directions. We find less pull force if the poles are facing in the same direction. When two magnets are far enough apart, the magnetization direction doesn’t seem to matter very much.
I want to zero in on what happens when a Patient, like me, are faced with a particular healthcare crisis or issue and we’re not connected with a Physician. And, what happens to most people we know and meet who are far enough apart from the Doctor-Patient relationship in Concierge Medicine that they’re really not connected to a care provider whatsoever.
What to do? How can Doctors move the magnetic needle?
So how does a metaphor about magnets apply to the Doctor-Patient relationship you might ask? Well, most often a Physician is closest to the Patient when they’re physically in the office vs. far apart. We can all agree on that. Secondly, where there’s no relationship or ongoing communication between the Physician and Patient, we’re usually on different pages with our healthcare goals and objectives.
(Story Con’t Below)
Your Patients are the backbone and champions behind your career. They are the lifeblood of any great medical practice. FOR MOST PEOPLE, the magnet that keeps them coming back in today’s culture is believe or not, not YOU at all. Would you believe me if I told you that only 20% of 6,000 Patients in the past five years say “I completely trust my Doctor’s opinion.” See graphic below.
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That’s just astounding to us how far such an amazing profession with so much skill and talent has fallen from grace in the eyes of its customer (e.g. Patient). This means 80 percent of people in this survey and whom are probably not much different from your friends and Patients in your own community don’t, won’t and will not trust a Doctor anytime soon.
That’s sad. Truly. Because you’re so gifted and talented and those skills go unappreciated.
So back on point. What is the magnet or pull force that is keeping a Patient coming back into YOUR office if it isn’t the relationship they have with the Doctor?
Answer: Insurance. You happen to be in-network, right now.
Sad, but true.
Yup. A Patient has to find that in-network Doctor in order to make it work and get whatever is wrong fixed.
I listened to an interview with an Emergency Room Physician last week. He said something that really bothered me. But, I get it. He said “I don’t give a $%#& about all that touchy feely stuff. At the end of the day, I fix the problem and move on. I don’t put emotions into it. Patients are projects. I fix the project.”
For a great ER Physician, that philosophy may work. There’s no real connection after the trauma. I get it. But, Patients around you and I right now, feel like this is how EVERY Doctor feels about their Patients. We’re just a project to be fixed and then move on to the next one.
Patients are not Projects. Patients are People.
So what is the magnet of your practice? What are people saying about you when they leave? Are you repelling them? Or, are you far enough away that you’re forgotten about until it comes time to go see the Doctor again for that thing that’s been bothering you?
Patients today understand that you’ve got the degree to solve the problem. But the respect doesn’t go much further than that. They’re willing to wait, be rudely treated by your staff, pay an increasingly large co-pay and really just want to get in and out and on with their lives with as little interaction with YOU and your team who all seem to appear to care more about seeing the next patient than the current patient.
That mentality isn’t fair, but it’s true.
Let’s reverse engineer this problem. What if we flipped the magnet over and Doctors were attracting vs. repelling their Patients? Recall, that the simple 5th grade science book tells us that ‘we see that there is more pull force when the poles are facing in opposite directions.’
That’s how life is for everyone. We’re all going in different directions. We’re not always thinking, ‘I wonder what my Doctor would think of me eating this or drinking that?’
What if we had pattern interrupts? Positive ones?
This magnet theory is magical in your practice because it transforms Doctors into nice, caring people. It engages Patients who have busy lives that take them in all sorts of different directions but has enough pull force to create positive attraction.
When you throw a hand written card in the mailbox, every Patient on the receiving end suddenly perks up.
So why do your colleagues in medicine, staff administration treat Patient and People so poorly and unprofessionally? Why is the ‘standard’ of care or the ‘status quo’ defended so vehemently? Well, there’s money to be made, that’s why.
And, that’s all well and good, but what about the wake of the procrastinating, disenfranchised, bad attitude and story telling Patient and former Patient whom are now sharing their bad experience at your medical office with the community around you? These stories are much too common. How is knowing what they are saying about you making the event of ‘going to the doctor’ any more pleasant for them?
To put this in perspective, I had a conversation last week with three Concierge Physicians.
We talked about how supposedly “equal” Physicians are towards each other in an executive Board Room or hospital hallway. That’s not so from the patient perspective. A Patient picks up on the “atmosphere” around you within ten seconds of you walking in the exam room. You do carry an atmosphere with you wherever you go, don’t you? Patients can tell if you’re simply in a good mood, a bad mood and a good Doctor vs. a great Doctor in record setting time.
But the Patient came back, so we’re ‘all good’ right?
The patient came back most likely because you’re in-network, for now. Take that coverage away and what happens? They’re looking for the next Doctor that is within 20-minutes of their home or work.
So how do you go from good to great in the minds of your Patients? Well, there are several things a Doctor can do. And, you must do them repeatedly. It’s not a ‘well, I did that last week, so we don’t have to do it again …’ kind of thing. It’s about daily or weekly habits.
One of those weekly habits is writing THANK YOU NOTES.
I know, it seems so silly and antiquated but it really works.
Every Doctor I talk to wants and needs patient referrals.
Just simply being nice isn’t going to cut it. Any Doctor can be nice. A Barista making my coffee is nice. My kids teachers are nice. I want more. And why not?
What I’m looking for is a great Doctor who will go to bat for me with specialists. What we’re looking for is personal, in-depth knowledge of our acute or chronic condition. We want a short hand with our Doctor. What Patients want is someone who cares enough to actually care.
Today in healthcare, let’s be honest, we don’t feel that from our Physician anymore.
So one way to increase patient referrals is remember the little things a Patient may say to you. I sat down with a physician recently who jots small little hand written notes in the margins of the patients file about personal things the patient said. For example, a patient recently lost their grandfather. He noted it in the margins and sent a bereavement card signed and handwritten with the patients address the next day.
Why wouldn’t you take a brief moment of your time to write a note that says to a Patient, “Hey, I listened to you … I hear you.” Or, say THANK YOU?
This lost art of writing a note is one of the small ways a patient can tell if you’re a good Doctor or a caring, Great Doctor.
Don’t believe me? Well, prove me wrong. Try it.
After all, what do you have to lose? Patients when they leave your office are saying something about you to their friends and family? Are you creating a reputation worth remarking about? What would your last ten patients say about you? Was your last patient visit remarkable?
What would you do with out patient referrals? A better question, what would they do without you?
Sending a thank-you note after a meaningful conversation with a Patient is one way to set yourself apart as a Concierge Medicine Physician.
Often I pose the question to a Physician … How would your next Patient react or feel if your medical practice closed up and didn’t exist any longer?
Would they miss YOU? Would they notice? Would they even care? Or, would they just shrug their shoulders and move on? What would they say about YOU if your practice closed and there was a For Lease sign in the window?
The two words ‘Thank you’ are two of the English language’s most elegant words to me. They should be the lifeblood of a Concierge Medicine practice. These two words are words that Doctors everywhere don’t say enough. Think about it. When was the last time you received a thank you note (handwritten) from a Doctor? If I was a patient and got one of these … heck, I’d probably frame it! That’s how rare this is today in healthcare.
These two powerful words, THANK YOU, encourage, uplift and create a remarkable impression on your Patients with the added benefit of increased loyalty. Today, I want to share with you 7 great ways you can show your patient appreciation and say Thank you! to Patients in the future.
1. Send a hand-written card, preferably on your own person, embossed note card sized stationary.
Don’t send an email. It is just not personal enough. Despite the digital age, hand-written notes or small cards will always be one of the simplest and best ways to say ‘Thank you’ because it’s personal, meaningful and intentional. Keep it short. Hand-written communication will never be out of date but you don’t need to write a novel. It is usually always a small, low-cost gesture, but it means a lot. Why? Because it was intentional and personal.
2. Make It Personal. Personalize It.
Doctors should think back to the conversation and pinpoint what the patient seemed most excited to talk about. Mentioning specific details discussed during the conversation in your thank-you note. This shows that the you, their Doctor were listening and paying close attention.
Amanda Augustine is a well-recognized expert in career advancement, including offering advice to people on developing one’s professional brand said …
“Thank them for their time and whatever you learned but pay attention to the personal details that came up during the interview,” Augustine said. “If you remember there’s an upcoming vacation or if they’re a huge Yankees fan, don’t be afraid to bring that up. You want them to remember the conversation you had that sets you apart from the others.”
3. Remember birthdays
If you don’t have a record of your staff and Patient birthdays, start making one. Make use of the milestone to show your appreciation and gratitude. Surprise and delight them with an unexpected birthday card in the mail or in-person, or give them a shout out on Facebook to show you’re thinking of them.
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4. Send them a Christmas card
Don’t forget Christmas cards. Post them in your practice and make sure you provide a hand-signed Christmas card. Adding staff signatures is a nice touch but it actually can work against you. Oftentimes, your Patient may really like you as their doctor but they had a disagreement with one of your staff and that can come back to haunt you.
4. Send them a Thanksgiving card
Don’t forget Thanksgiving!
5. Write letters of reference for students you may know or who have worked with you in your practice.
Don’t forget this important aspect of life. Maybe a long-time Patient has a daughter or son graduating from college and you’ve known them since birth. Look for any area within their lives that you can upon receiving a request, write up a recommendation or referral letter. If you didn’t realize that, you’re being too humble. Offer to be a reference, or write a recommendation for connections on LinkedIn.
6. Have Great, not just GOOD prizes for kids to grab when they leave the office.
Every parent loves it when a visit to the doctors office does not end in a car ride of tears. That’s not fun. I know from personal experience what I’m talking about here. Oddly enough, as I write this today, my wife called and said “That doctor’s office had GREEEAAAAAAAAT!!!! prizes!” And that is exactly how you want visits to the doctor’s office to end. With smiling, happy faces on the kids and the parents. It doesn’t have to cost a lot but it will take an intentional and thoughtful trip to the Five Below store.
Look for pre-packaged items that are one-person grabs from a basked. For example, individually wrapped and packaged LEGO packs, Beanie Boo’s, Hot Wheels toys. Kids and parents are resilient but they can often have very long-term memories of how awful the last visit to the doctor’s office was or short term memories about how great the last visit was. Which one are you going to be?
7. Be Generous
If you get to know your Patient, you get to know what they are doing. Whatever it is, invest into your Patient’s personal development. It could be as simple as a leadership or business topic you discussed last month and you just happen to be on Amazon and bought a book for them. Be generous in small and large ways and you will reap the rewards for years to come.
Finally, one closing thought. If you’re a Doctor and you care about Patient Referrals, grab a blank card or a Thank You note and start writing!
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