Does your doctor ever thank you for coming to see him or her?

So there was a fascinating article in last October’s issue of Medical Economics that has just been brought to our attention.

The article — by Dr. Joseph Sidari, who is an otolaryngologist in Worcester, Massachusetts — has nothing at all to do with prostate cancer. It has everything to do with the doctor-patient relationship. It is entitled “The last words you should say to any patient.”

Patient satisfaction is important to doctors, to hospitals, and to patients too. It affects how patients think about the care they receive, and so it affects the recommendations we patients make when we are asked by friends, family members, and co-workers whether we know a good family doctor, or a good otolaryngologist, or (in the case of many of the readers of this article) a good prostate cancer specialist. And just to be clear, Medical Economics is one of the most widely read medical journals in America. It helps physicians to learn how to best manage their practices and make a good living as a doctor.

What Dr. Sidari describes is a part of a process that he and his colleagues went through to improve patient satisfaction at the practice where he works. He describes the basic set of goals that the consultants set for him and his colleagues — using what is known as the AIDET® process. Follow the link provided to learn more about it.

Dr. Sidari decided that he really didn’t need to bother with the last bit of the AIDET process, which is fundamentally that a doctor should say thank you to his patients for coming to see him, complying with things like taking medicines in an appropriate manner, getting diagnostic tests done, etc. Basically, the idea is that the last thing a doctor should do as a patient is leaving his office is to thank the patient for having done something. Dr. Sidari felt that his relationships with patients were good enough already and that saying “thank you” wasn’t really going to help much.

Before he learned about the AIDET process, Dr. Sidari did indeed have a pretty high patient satisfaction rating compared to his colleagues. Read his article to find out what happened. It’s short and enlightening. And it has an added implication. How your doctor thinks about you as a patient might also be profoundly impacted if you were to make sure you thanked the doctor for something that he did too as you are leaving at the end of an office visit!

7 Responses

  1. I like your suggestion that polite behavior works both ways, and helps form more congenial relationships. I often suggest to patients that they email a thank-you note to the doctor thanking him for the time he spent, and briefly reviewing what was discussed. It also provides a chance to follow up with any questions they have as a result, and to outline the next steps they will be taking. I think putting this in writing has the added benefit of forcing the patient to crystallize his thoughts and questions. It also acts as a record of the meeting for later reference. This is a simple technique I always used in business that seems to translate well to meetings with doctors.

  2. I agree with Allen’s response, but in my case, I have found that my urologist does not like to discuss medical topics in his e-mails. It all boils down to having to protect themselves against a possible suit. The possible suits have taken away the spontaneity that should exist in a patient-doctor relationship.

    Carlos, Feb. 2, 2016

  3. Carlos,

    I can’t imagine a doctor unwilling to put his advice in writing. Lawsuit or not, that’s his job. In fact, he protects himself better with statements in black and white than with patients thinking he said one thing vs. his claim that he said a different thing. The way he can absolutely protect himself from all lawsuits is not to practice. Do you think your urologist is worth keeping?

  4. The urologist provides his advice during the consultation, but he will not provide any information on the e-mail. If he is a good doctor, I have the choice to continue or find someone else that would so do.

  5. I think we need to appreciate that there are a lot of community-based physicians (not just urologists) who really do not like to communicate with their patients by e-mail, not least because it can become very time consuming very fast — and they don’t get paid for any of this time and effort.

  6. Hi Mike.

    At one time in my cancer life I pulled some strings to get treated by the “best oncologist for prostate cancer” at a major New York City cancer center. At the time I was willing to put up with his less than patient friendly manner. I will point out that most of the support staff and nurses were very patient friendly. Of course the facility was a cancer patient factory.

    During this time I had seen several other oncologists for second opinions and different treatment options.

    Tow and a half years ago I switched my care to one of those doctors. I have had a lot of treatments and progression but I have always been treated like a real person. I can e-mail the office with questions and get a quick response. I can e-mail my oncologist directly but never do unless he he mails me with a response first. He has called me on Sunday morning with test results and a revised game plan.

    During office visits he spends time entertaining all my questions.

    He and his staff are all friendly and seem to have a genuine concern for me. He is a very well-known and respected oncologist. He is part of a large cancer center and does research but I see him at a very nice satellite hospital facility and it a very comfortable setting at which to be treated. I have to drive about an hour and a half from my home, but that is comparable to going into New York City.

    The switch has made a significant difference in my quality of life during a difficult time in my life. I always thank the doctor and staff at each visit and try to have a positive attitude during my visits.

    Bill Manning

  7. Hi Bill … And it would be just great if every doctor and every patient built relationships like the one between you and your current medical oncologist! I have a similar set of relationships with my primary care physician and my cardiologist, and we all work hard to maintain it (I think).

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