Patient Communication - What to do when a patient says thank you

Posted by Dike Drummond MD

patient communication patient says thank you optPatient Communication - What to do when a patient says thank you

I have asked hundreds of doctors to tell me a story of their most recent rewarding patient encounter. That patient interaction where, at the end of the day, they look back and said to themselves, "oh yeah, that's why I became a doctor."

These stories all have one thing in common.

No matter what the details of the case, each story always ends with the patient and/or their family and caregivers saying, "thank you."

Unfortunately, that same doctor can often miss the critical importance of these brief moments.

When a patient says thank you - no matter how rare an occasion this is in your practice - it is an opportunity for you to do two fundamental things:

1) Reconnect you with your purpose and sense of fulfillment in your practice and simultaneously inject energy to all three of your energetic bank accounts.

This infusion of energy is so powerful I call it the "triple whammy". This one interaction injects a bolus of energy into your physical, emotional and spiritual accounts simultaneously. The surplus can power you for weeks at a time.

2) Give the patient and their caregivers the opportunity to connect with you in a whole new way.

If you don't take advantage of these brief moments of gratitude, they are quickly swallowed up by the pile of tasks in your practice day - and the opportunity is lost.

Here's how it usually goes.

You're distracted and perhaps a little surprised at the open expression of thanks. You say something like, "you're welcome, just doing my job" ... and hurry on to the next patient. This magic moment passes and everyone feels like something was missed.

Let me show you a different way to accept their gratitude and express YOUR own thanks that can make all the difference when these precious moments arise.


Let's take a second here to dive into this example of patient communication from the patient's perspective. Put yourself in their shoes.

Have you ever had a wonderful encounter with a service person at a restaurant, or a hotel or during a purchase? They did an outstanding job. You want to thank them and let them know how grateful you are. But when you say thank you - it doesn't seem to land. They don't take a moment to let it soak in and say, "you're welcome". How does that make you feel?

Your patients feel the same way - when their thank you doesn't land with you.

patient communication patient says thank you prevent physician burnout optNext time one of your patients says "Thank You", try this…

1) Recognize what's happening.
You did a good job. The patient recognizes the difference you have made in their life. Maybe you actually saved their life this time. They are truly grateful. They want to say "thank you" out loud. We all know how rare this occasion is in most practices. This is a special occassion when both of you can connect on a deeper level of humanity than just "doing your job".

2) Stop. Turn to face them squarely. Look them in the eye.

3) Slow down. Take a deep breath.
Allow their gratitude and acknowledgment for your care to soak in to your body – in all the right places just the right amounts. (as if you are a GIANT Love Sponge). Breathe it in, notice how it feels, smile just a little bit. Then take another breath and ...

4) Tell them "you're welcome" in whatever way feels authentic for you.

Here's a potential example:

"You're so welcome Mavis. Taking care of you and your mom reminds me of why I became a doctor in the first place. I am so glad you're feeling better. Now get out of my office and I hope I do not see you again until our next appointment ;-)"

5) If you use a journal, I strongly encourage you to write about this experience later on that day.

When you accept gratitude in this fashion, you will notice that it provides you a burst of energy and fulfillment for days afterwards.

Energetic deposits from interactions like this are what prevent burnout. Don't miss these opportunities.

And if you have to search weeks, or months, or years to remember a fulfilling patient encounter like this, it's high time to look at what you really want in your practice and start moving in that direction. Build your Ideal Job Description and begin to make small changes in your day now.

It is possible to make thankful patients a much more common experience in your work week. 

Remember this too ...

You expressing gratitude to members of your team - is just as powerful for them.
When they do a good job, look them in the eye and say a clean authentic, "Thank You". Go ahead and treat them just like you would a dog.

They will love it too.

You can build a deeper connection with everyone in your office or hospital, just by thanking them for the hard work they do on behalf of you and your patients. I encourage you to make this a regular habit.



What was your last truly fulfilling patient encounter? We would love to hear your story.

Tags: Physician Burnout, physician patient communication