They Will Always Remember How You Made Them Feel

When I was little, my father, a business owner, told me something that I never forgot:

“People will not always remember what you said, what you did, what you looked like, or what you cost…but they will always remember how you made them feel.”

Well, I put that to the test today, using that philosophy to my advantage when dealing with some difficult situations.  First, a little background…

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll see that this is my first post in quite a while.  I didn’t mean to abandon you, and I do intend to continue updating the blog.  But something called Life happened…first it was a long-term visit from a friend who needed help, then it was a gravely sick family member, then the unexpected death of a close friend, and so on.  Five months later, I’m still playing catch-up with my patient cases.

I admit I dropped the ball with two patients in particular.  Patient #1 is a laid-back person with a pleasant, understanding, almost passive personality and endless patience.  This person’s lab results came back; I interpreted them, found some patterns confusing, and contacted a colleague for a consult.  Simply scheduling a one-on-one teleconference with one of your in-demand colleagues can take two or three weeks.  It doesn’t help when you lose the notes you took from said teleconference.  Two more weeks spent, tearing my office apart on the off-time, combing through notebooks and piles on my desk, trying find said notes.  Several more weeks trying to contact the colleague again for a re-cap.  All the while seeing patients and interpreting their lab tests every day.  And so on.  I’m not making excuses; this should have never happened.

My staff tried to contact Patient #1 and could not get any answer.  They left several voicemails that had gone unreturned.  We began to wonder if this person’s endless patience had finally–and understandably–run out.

Patient #2 brought some concerns about our office to my attention during her last visit.  Namely, supplement inventory and lack thereof, and how I handled receiving the news about a serious diagnosis she’d received from another doctor.  She had received this diagnosis during my medical leave of absence, but I did return to the office shortly after we found out, and I could’ve done more at the time.  I won’t go into specifics, but suffice it to say that I did not do everything I could to handle the situation in a dignified and compassionate manner.

Neither had been back to our office since.

Both of these people are wonderful people, excellent, compliant patients, and they’re a joy to anyone with whom they grace their presence.  I had assumed I lost them both and I was deeply sorry, both for failing them and also for losing out on future contact with them and watching them, guiding them, through growth and healing.

I thought, suck it up, and call them.  Sometimes, a personal call from the doctor him/herself makes an entire world of difference.  So, with nothing to lose, I took the plunge.

I worked up the courage and called each person, and admitted my mistakes, without stooping to self-deprecation (that would’ve been unprofessional, since people look up to us as doctors and we owe it to them to be deserving of that).  I gave sincere apologies, and touched base with them.  I got the first one scheduled for an appointment to review her test results.  I offered support to the second, who went through multiple dental extractions and blood testing for her children in the past two days alone.  I also told her how we, as an office, addressed her concerns head-on in a staff meeting, effectively altering entire office policies.

As each phone call came to a close, the patient sounded upbeat, encouraged, and touched that I called them personally.  Receiving that phone call made their day better.  They felt better about having me as their doctor.

The two patients I thought I’d lost forever are now patients for life, provided I follow through.  Why?  Because it made them feel good.  They now feel good about coming to our office.  A potential disaster has been thwarted, and their overall experiences and impressions are positive.

And what did it cost me?  Nothing; making a good impression does not have to cost a penny.  It cost me a little time, but how much?  Maybe a half hour, total, to make both phone calls, most of which was spent working up the courage and collecting my thoughts, planning what I would say.

Doctors are human, too.  We make mistakes.  Life happens to us as well, and sometimes to-do lists get forgotten about, shoved suddenly behind a crisis in our personal lives.  Then, we’re embarrassed to reach out to that person and touch base with them, knowing that our effort may not be well-received, if they’re ticked off enough.

It doesn’t matter; fix it anyway–don’t just let it go.  If you find yourself in a similar situation:

1.) Contact that patient.  Don’t have your staff do it for you; do it yourself.  This means you didn’t forget about them or write them off.  It sends a strong signal that you care.
2.) Admit the mistake.  Don’t make excuses; my patients know about my medical leave and the sudden death that necessitated we split town and close the office, because people needed to know that we were not in the office.  However, they don’t know about the sick family member or the friend in need; those weren’t dire emergencies.  Keep the explanations to a minimum, since patients don’t need to be concerned with our life stories.
3.) Don’t dwell on the mistake or resort to self-deprecation; briefly acknowledge it, and move on.  They’re more interested in solutions and what you’re going to do differently now.
4.) Follow through with what you say.  If you say you’re going to make a change, put your money where your mouth is and do it.  The apology is a get-out-of-jail card, but not a get-out-of-jail-free card.  It’s more like probation; violate it, and they may be done with you for good.

And always remember my father’s words…they’re priceless. 🙂

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