Optometric Management Tip # 154   -   Wednesday, December 29, 2004
The Lost Art of Thank You Notes

I’m not sure if thank you letters are becoming less popular in our cell phone and email driven society, but I have a hunch they are. If the thoughtful courtesy is not enough motivation to send written thank you letters, consider that they also have a practice building effect. It’s a nice habit to get into to send a personal note whenever someone does something nice for you. That nice thing might be a gift, a meal, a favor or a referral of a new patient.

The format

The type of note you send is obviously an individual choice, but I like hand-written notes when the event is of a personal nature. I use cards that have a design on the outside and are blank inside. The design may depict a beautiful scene, a personal hobby or interest, or even one’s initials. When the event is of a business nature, I like a personalized, typewritten letter on professional stationary with a real signature. An email message is certainly better than no thank you at all, but this is one situation where I think the good old U.S. Postal Service has the edge, because holding a note in your hand just feels more personal.

If the note is handwritten, be careful of spelling and grammar, and if it’s typed, be sure to use a proper business letter style and run spell-check. An accepted business format is shown below in a sample thank you letter. Choose high quality materials and make sure everything is done right; the note reflects your image in a lasting way.

Computer-assisted

Most optometric practice management software systems have a provision to track referrals of new patients. If your system has this feature, make sure you use it. When a new patient is entered into the system, a text-box prompt may occur, which asks if the patient was referred by a previous patient, and if so, allows the operator to enter the name of the referring party. Because the referring party contact information is already in your system, the computer does the rest. It stores all the names of people who referred others, so they can have letters addressed to them. It links the names of the patients they sent, so that can be merged into the letter. Your office staff simply puts practice stationery into the printer once a week and runs the process to print thank you letters. Addresses and names are inserted into fields that you have pre-set in a form letter. Be sure to change the wording of the form letter occasionally, so patients who refer often don’t always receive the same letter.

HIPAA

We should always respect the privacy of patients, and the federal HIPAA regulation now requires it. To comply with this, we simply need to get the new patient’s permission to send a thank you letter to the referring party. The easiest way to do this is to include a question on your “Welcome to our Office” form. This form is filled out by all new patients and it obtains the usual demographic data and some pertinent history information. It’s very informative to have a section that asks

How did you hear of our office? __________________________________

If someone referred you, please indicate name:______________________

May we use your name in thanking this person? YES____ NO____

A sample letter

An example of a thank you for referral letter follows, which you can edit to suit your needs. This letter refers to an in-office gift certificate, which is of course optional. I also enclose two business cards (without mentioning them), which subtly plants the seed that we love referrals.

December 21, 2004

Mr. John Jones
123 Main Street
Munster, IN 46321

Dear Mr. Jones:

Thank you for referring Mary Smith to my office for eye care. This is the highest complement we can receive, and I sincerely appreciate the confidence you have shown in me with your recommendation.

Be assured that we will provide our highest level of service and quality for Miss Smith, as well as any other friends or relatives you are kind enough to send our way.

The enclosed gift certificate is our way of saying thanks. It can be used like cash in our office for any purchase… sunglasses, contact lenses, eye exams or whatever you wish.

Thank you again and we look forward to your next visit.

Sincerely Yours,

Neil B. Gailmard, O.D.


Best wishes for continued success,

Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Chief Optometric Editor, Optometric Management