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We've all been in other doctors’ offices either as a patient or visitor. Keeping our eyes open and observing can give us some valuable lessons.  There's always something to we can learn- sometimes positive and sometimes negative.  I accompanied my mother to her oral surgeon’s appointment.  What I saw was all positive.  It was a caring environment for patients and staff.

But, they did one thing that blew me away.  It could have been a great marketing tool, but was even more meaningful because they didn’t use it as one.  It was an honest and thoughtful gesture.  It was not a calculated move, nor offered with expectations of returns.  All which made it even more valuable.  It was unique, generous and offered with an authentic desire to just be kind.

It occurred in our last few moments in their office.  We were ready to leave and were taken to their financial office to pay for the services we received.   When I made the appointment, the staff said that fees were due at the time of the service.  With our checkbooks out and ready to go, a staff member told us that we owed them nothing.  You heard it right- my mother’s fees were totally waived!  It so happens that this oral surgeon does not believe in charging people who are over the age of 90.  I mean, I've heard of senior citizen discounts, but I've never heard of anything like this!

What a decent, caring and generous gift.  A gesture like this is so important when you think about the lives of the people who receive it.  They were born before the Great Depression and have lived a long life.  They're living on fixed incomes.  Yet, they have many health issues that whittle away at what little income they do have.  You couldn't pick a group who'd be more appreciative.

The cynics among us will say that it doesn’t cost the practice that much. How many of their patients would it involve?  After all, how many 90+ patients are going to need oral surgery?  Cynics could say that the positive word of mouth advertisement would be well worth waiving the fees.  I am proof of that point.  I have recommended this practice to anyone who needs oral surgery.  But, if you look at it for the possible benefits to you and your practice then you are entirely missing the point.

It's not about the cost to the practice or the possible benefits at all.  It's about what it says about the heart and mission of this practice.  It's what it says about the doctor. It's about the way they offered this gift.  They don't advertise this benefit, nor do they use it in any of their marketing attempts.  They don't need to.  This is a large practice with a great reputation and their schedules are full for all their doctors.  Instead, they offered it in private.  They offered the waiver to help a patient who has lived a long full life.  They offered it without conditions or expectations of reward.  All which makes it so much more valuable.

I'm not suggesting that this is something you should incorporate in your practice.  Most practices could not afford such a gesture.  It wouldn't be practical to do this in an optometric practice.  But, it does make me think about what we can do to show our patients that we care about appreciate them.  The point is that it doesn’t have to be a dramatic act.  It can be a small act of kindness and caring.

There many ideas of how to bring that personal touch to our practices. Creating an atmosphere that is positive and welcoming can be both healing and encouraging. Thanking patients and acknowledging referrals is a good practice.  Writing a personal note to send to a patient on a special occasion can be meaningful.  Many offices do automated birthday greetings and that's nice.  But why not send a personal note, if the patient mentions some other occasion when they're in your office?  If they mentioned it, then it's an important event for them.  Celebrating anniversaries, graduations, the birth/adoption of a child, a job promotion, or welcoming a new patient to your office are just a few events worthy of noting.  Sending a note shows you heard them and that you cared.

If you like the idea of writing a personal note, but struggle with what to say, go to our website.  Look under Free Resources for a document called "Greetings and Salutations".  Download it and use it as a reference for your office to help you get started.

It can also be fun to honor groups of patients on special days like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Grandparent’s Days, or Valentine's Day.  Single out specific groups (senior citizens, military, police and fire departments, first responders, teachers, etc) for special treatment certain times of years. If you chose to feature a specific group, it doesn't have to be expensive or elaborate.  A simple sign acknowledging that group and thanking them for their work is a place to start.

The point is- be creative!  There's no limit to what you can do.  But do it for the right reason.  If you're doing it to just gain points and make yourself look good, patients will see right through you.  Your efforts at gratitude should be consistent with the culture of your office.  Do it with an open and generous heart.

Our patients already know we care for them, but how do you show them you also care about them? Waiving fees is an extreme example, but what has worked in your office?  How do you thank patients for selecting your practice and trusting you with their health care?   How have you let them know that they matter to you?  What have you done that your patients have enjoyed and appreciated?    Write down your ideas and share what works in your office in the comments below.

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