A colleague showed me a letter his wife had received from her physician the other day. The woman had had a mammogram, followed by a biopsy, which was negative, fortunately. The doctor kept in touch with her, was very warm and supportive, and my colleague’s wife was both relieved and pleased with her care. A few days later, the official letter arrived, with the reminder that it was the patient’s responsibility to follow-up. What struck my colleague, as it did me when I read it, was the cold, distance language of the form letter.
Every time your practice interacts with a patient, your are communicating – you are telling the patient something about yourself. This letter was in plain black ink on cheap paper. They send out a lot of these letters, so why does it have to be so cold and boring? Use some color, and have 1,000 sheets printed at a time. The letter itself needed to be rewritten – something like, “I’m glad that I was able to give you good news. However, it is very important that you get another mammogram six months from now to make sure that everything is fine. Please mark it on your calender now, and call us today and let’s schedule that appointment now.” Dentists and ophthalmologists don’t let you leave the office without the next appointment. Donald Burr, the founder of the first major discount airline People’s Express, made the comment, “Coffee stains on the flip down trays mean bad maintenance on the airplanes.” More than once I’ve been in a physician’s office, both as a patient and professionally, and spotted the coffee stains. My favorite was the dermatologist who used every free giveaway from the drug companies. The clipboards used to complete patient information, the forms I filled out and the medical record forms, the exam table paper – everything had some random drug on it. Other practices use a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy for forms, letters, and other communication with the outside world
Take a look at yourself through the eyes of a patient. Walk in the front door one day and look around. You may want to ask a trusted friend to walk through, just as a patient would. Do you look like the kind of practice you are? Do you portray confidence and professionalism, or sloppiness and “cheapness”. Do you say what you want to say, and does your practice portray the kind of person and physician you are?
Try it, and let us know what you discover. We’lll keep it anonymous. Thanks!