December 6, 2021

Editor: “Take five minutes during your charting tonight and try this …”

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Dear Doctors,  

If you know me or have listened to our DocPreneur Leadership Podcast then you are familiar with how much we love and adore and support the application of handwritten notes and handwritten thank you notes from Doctor to Patient.

Sara Sheridan, an Author writes “To me, reading through old letters and journals is like treasure hunting. Somewhere in those faded, handwritten lines, there is a story that has been packed away in a dusty old box for years.”

Maddie Crum wrote “Handwritten letters allow us an opportunity to pause. Due to a lag in delivery time, they might also force us to consider the shelf life of what we write . . . And their tangibility lends them a sense of permanence.”

You and I both know that its hard to find the time to do this in today’s busy and bureaucratic medical office. But if we continue to think this way and use this excuse as the reason we’re not doing better, we can only blame ourselves and become participants in the continued erosion of the Physician-Patient relationship. This might seem counter-intuitive and maybe a little unfair, but the fact of the matter is there is time, you just need to make time for it.

I’ll be the first to admit, it may seem like an unfamiliar gesture. It might feel awkward at first to put pen to paper. But as a Patient who encourages Physicians to practice this exercise each week and having been on the receiving end of many a thank you note from my Physician(s) over the years, I will admit that there is no amount of money that can now be put onto how invaluable and closely connected I feel with my personal Physician.

It’s strange, I know. However, it’s a hearkening back to the days of the Andy Griffith era or something you’d expect your Physician to do, as the Physician portrayed in “The Doctor,” a painting by Samuel Luke Fildes.

I’ll share with you today two of my favorite quotes that have recently made it from my mind to now hanging on my wall.

The first is “Don’t give away the groceries.”

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I was reminded of this sentiment the other day by a good friend of ours around here at CMT who has developed an innovative myofascial approach that can be accessed virtually and is helping Patients escape chronic pain, and often prevent the need for surgery by learning how to liberate their own fascial dysfunction. Her name is Dana Sterling and she’s amazing. She’s the Owner and Founder of Sterling Structural Therapy and we had a good smile together over Zoom about whom she attributed hearing this quote from.

My second favorite quote comes from a podcast I was listening to during my daily commute and is by George Santayana where he wrote “Skepticism is the chastity of the intellect, and it is shameful to surrender it too soon or to the first comer.”

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EDITOR: Seven Creative Ways To Say “Thank You!” In To Your Patient(s)

So consider this for a moment in the event that you’re still skeptical about the time it requires to write a short, handwritten note to your Patients.

Physicians constantly remind us that ‘Word of Mouth’ and ‘Patient Referrals’ are the number one way they grow their practice. This is a tale as old as time it seems. Meaning, if I had a nickel for every time I heard this, I’d probably be with my wife and kids on a boat or a beach somewhere living off the interest of this investment. So here we are.

Imagine if you were sending out just one thank you card to your Patients per week. At the end of the year, minus two weeks for vacation, that’s 50 people you personally expressed something meaningful in writing to. If those fifty Patients told just one or two people about you, what do you think would happen to your ‘Word of Mouth and New Patient Referrals?’

Handwritten notes from my Doctor feel more heartfelt and authentic. A generic, mass-printed mailer or email simply can’t get as small and as personal to the recipient whom you want and hope will continue to be your Patient for years to come.

Past Due Bill Notices Get Paid Faster, Or On Time When There Is Relationship vs. Resentment.

When was the last time you received a ‘thank you’ note for paying your car payment or your mortgage on-time?

I know the answer. Never.

Medical bill payments, past-due balances in your office will more than likely decrease dramatically if you’ve got Patients in your practice who you appreciate, acknowledge and have a personal relationship with. The fact is there is never a ‘thank you’ written from the medical practice down the street when we [eg Patients] pay the bill before the deadline. But if the bill is 30, 60 or even 90-days overdue, you better believe the letters start coming fast and furious and eventually threats of collections start appearing in a Patients mailbox.

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Why Is Collecting Patient Payments So Difficult?!

Is that your fault?

A screen capture of Physician comments related to handwritten notes to Patients on our CMT Instagram Feed.

Well, not entirely, but you can’t shift the blame to the ‘system’ either. After all, you did accept the position and post you are in and must accept some amount of responsibility for the relationship you do or do not have with your Patients at present.

Recently I was talking with a Doctor from Ohio. We paused and unpacked this topic for a few moments during our Zoom interview.

She said “Before I opened my [Concierge Medicine] practice I used to dread the calls to collect the unpaid payments in my practice. My staff hated those calls and even worse, knew that by sending out those letters, arguments would ensue. It was always a struggle. It created tension between my staff and my Patients. But today, it is much easier. The secret I discovered was I starting using ‘thank you’ notes. I know, it sounds silly. I wrote thank you notes to my patients. They were short and sweet and in some cases for the most random things.”

Here’s one last metaphor to hit the ground and make our point today. Where is the fan-fare from the mortgage company for paying your bill, on-time, again, for the 32nd month in a row?

I’ll tell you where it’s not. It’s not in your mailbox.

Instead you are met with nothing, notta, silence. Until, you’re a few days late.

How Do I Get Started? Where In My Busy Schedule Do I Find the Time?

Personally, I have a goal of writing three thank-you notes a week. It’s a surprisingly simple and cost effective act of kindness.

I was talking to a wonderful Physician from Nashville two weeks ago as I helped her bring her belongings to her car during our annual industry medical conference, the Concierge Medicine Forum. She remarked about how much time charting took each night and how if she spent just 5 or 10 minutes during that time taking pen to paper and ‘appreciating’ her Patients how much more she would enjoy entering the exam room the next day.

Recent CMT Instagram message we received from a Concierge Medicine Physician about the importance of “Handwritten Notes” to Patients.

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SO What do PATIENTS “Really” EXPECT from their DOCTOR? Explained …

You know as well as I do that every one of your Patients needs a small deposit of your time, over time, not all at once and definitely not a collection or overdue notice.

Simply Noted had this to say and I love it … “People keep handwritten letters because they’re not just a letter. They’re a gift.”

FOR DOCTORS,

~Michael Tetreault
Editor-in-Chief