By Michael Tetreault, Editor-in-Chief, Concierge Medicine Today, Host, The DocPreneur Leadership Podcast
As you know, I’m not a Doctor. I am a Patient. And, I know what it’s like to sit on the other side of the exam room. I have kids, a wife and we have our share of health problems, accidents and office visits and even specialist visits too. I have a Concierge Doctor as well and while not perfect, he’s making “progress.” 🙂
I’m here today to talk about the idea that “Five words from you … [to a Patient], mean more than fifty words about you.”
I love this statement because it drills down to the core of the Patient-Physician relationship. We could care less about your biography or C.V. on your web site. What we want is you! We are demanding as a Patient, we get that. We want your time. We want your expertise and by golly, we want a remark-worthy and remarkable experience when we visit your office. We want you to call us by our first name. We have a whole list of demands.
On the other side of the coin, Doctors, you have an impossible job. There are demands, pressures and constraints on you that we’ll never understand or fully be aware of. Hats off to working in a tough, challenging and stressful place we somehow call ‘healthcare.’ We all as Patients owe our reverence and respect to you and you’ve certainly done more for our communities than we will ever know. Thank you
Now, with that spirit of two sides, the Patient and Physician … lets talk about the gap that exists in the relationship and how we can narrow that gap, or build a bridge to better relationship between Patient and Physician and better communication.
First, every one of your Patients needs a small deposit of your time, over time, not a collection notice or summons or threat that if they don’t pay their bill, your taking the ‘necessary steps to collect.’
That burns bridges.
WHAT IF … the next time you see me or call me you say this … “Hey Michael, I sent a thank you note and here’s what happened …”
Well, today I want to briefly share a true story about a Doctor, a Patient, the ‘thank you note’ vs. ‘collection letter’ and what can happen with just a little kindness.
We have all received PAST DUE notices, even from a Doctor or a Hospital. They aren’t fun. They’re confusing and Patients do not understand them. There’s also no one on our side of the mailbox who is patient enough to explain what everything means. You and I both know from experience there is no ‘thank you’ from the medical practice down the street waiting for us when we pay that medical bill before the deadline. I’ve never even received a ‘Thank You’ from my mortgage company and I pay them on time every month! And, you and I have probably never received a ‘thank you’ for paying that car payment on-time for the past several years either. And, where is the fan-fare from the Hospital for paying that bill, on-time, again, for the 10th month in a row?
You and I know the answer. Crickets. Nothing. Silence. Notta.
Hold on, until, you’re a few “days” late. Then you get all the attention you want, right?
Uggh. This is so frustrating. Has this happened to you?
But let’s step back for a moment. Is this building a relationship or is it more like assembling the bulldozers and dump trucks around the bridge that are prepared to ‘take it down?’
We know the answer and it happens more frequently than we like to admit. In fact, you might even be a little embarrassed that you’ve been the one sending out the past due notice. What is even crazier is the practice [and staff] and to some extend the Doctor as well, believe we’ll act like cattle do and come into the corral and sign-up for our next appointment before we even leave the building so we can start this [frustrating] process all over again?
Something has got to change. Doctors have got to make themselves “small” and help their Patients feel “big.”
So what does that mean? I’ll explain.
It’s understandable most medical offices operate in this way. Some have no choice. Doctors tell us all the time ‘I never got business classes in medical school.’
However, making yourself small and the Patient big is about finding unique ways both of us can communicate with each other, better. With Patients, [like me] and simple things like handwritten notes, a birthday card (signed by YOU, my Doctor with a personal note …. not your staff. And yes, we can tell! We’re pretty smart as Patients too!) you can go from zero to hero in a matter of moments in my eyes!
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Why Is Collecting Patient Payments So Difficult?!
What a ray of sunshine on a bright day receiving a handwritten note from our Doctor might be, well, should be.
Truett Cathy, the Founder of Chick-Fil-A once said “If a person is breathing, they need encouragement.”
I love that. And, it’s perfectly applicable to Doctors today.
All too often we are used to as Patients receiving a short list of “to-do’s” from our Physician. We’re then left with these ‘orders’ and have no guidance. No cheerleader and no real coach to help us achieve these goals. Our Doctor and what we see happening in Concierge Medicine in particular, is that these Physicians are creating unique opportunities to build relationships with Patients outside the four walls of the practice. They’re saying things like “You can do this…” or “I believe in you.”
Remember how we started this conversation today, “Five words from you … [to a Patient], mean more than fifty words about you.”
The Havas Group recently published a study about what makes organizations and businesses last. What they summarized and learned was “‘The world is looking for organizations that are making our lives better and making the world a better place to live.’”
As a Father, I couldn’t agree more. As a Patient, I completely agree.
“My patients want to know that I relate to them. Forming a connection that can’t be formed in a traditional office setting allows for a greater depth of trust and almost friendship, which allows for more transparent communication” ~Dr. A.P., Functional Concierge Medicine Practice, New Rochelle, NY
So, the next time your medical office sends one of these dreadful notices that says something like ‘Your urgent attention is required. To prevent collection efforts and additional costs such as attorney fees, please remit payment in full…’ consider an alternative approach first. Actually, well before the notice is even on the printer … you should be cultivating a better and closer relationship with the Patient.
The one magical piece of paper in your practice that is understated and overlooked, the ‘Thank You’ Note.
Truett Cathy also said “A raving fan from their (Chick-fil-A) perspective is someone who does three things: pays full price, visits more often, and tells others about the business.”
When you get small and personal, your patients will want, albeit downright demand that you grow bigger.
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SO What do PATIENTS “Really” EXPECT from their DOCTOR? Explained …
‘Thank you’ are two words Doctors and their team members don’t say enough.
These two powerful words can encourage any Patient and significantly increase patient retention and patient loyalty. I’m a big fan of Doctors who use these two words.
“The relationship is a partnership between the physician and the patient. It doesn’t work any other way.” ~Cardiologist/Int. Med., Feb 2020, NY, NY
True story from a medical practice in Ohio from just this week.
Just yesterday while talking with a Doctor from Ohio, we paused on this topic for a few moments. 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.”
Personally, I have a goal of writing three thank-you notes a week. It’s a surprisingly simple and cost effective act of kindness.
A pattern-interrupt. Over twenty years ago I was taught the value of one piece of paper. The ‘THANK YOU NOTE.’ I chose embossed stationary with the initials of my first and last name, not the business or logo. I wanted something ‘more personal’ — less official. Despite the digital age, hand-written notes or cards will always be one of the simplest and best ways to say ‘Thank you’ because it’s personal and intentional.
I will conclude today with this final thought.
Every one of your Patients needs a small deposit of your time, over time. It helps Patients feel Big. It gives us the encouragement we need to make those decisions we’re supposed to. Remember, “If a person is breathing, they need encouragement.”
Take the time to care about what’s going on in their personal lives, and genuinely caring and remembering what they’re going through. Say this through a random act of kindness in a short note and snail mail it to them. This is important, not only because it creates a closer bond with your existing Patients, but also because it helps them help you. They are spreading the word about you to their friends, many of whom might not be a current Patient. And, as they do, they are helping build your practice.
Don’t forget … “Five words from you … [to a Patient], mean more than fifty words about you.”
In the spirit of thankfulness, let me take just a minute to thank you!
I so appreciate that you take the time to read what we have to say, come to our FORUM and email and call us each and every week. I know there are a million different places to find information about practicing medicine, this and that and what not. So, THANK YOU for checking in with me from time to time. It truly amazes me.
Grateful and thankful FOR DOCTORS,
PS – Food for thought … If you have a TV in your medical office, please be sure you are using it. At the very least, run some educational slides about your practice or have age appropriate content on. Be mindful, little eyes may be watching too! For example, we visited an UCC in Atlanta recently and noticed the lobby had inappropriate content on for children and yet, dead silent tvs in the exam room. The DMV however, had educational slides about how to make their process easier. So, DMV = 1; Doctor’s Office = zero.