Expressing Gratitude Inspires Patient Engagement

November 20, 2014

Thanksgiving is a special time of year.  Families, friends, colleagues, and even strangers gather to share gratitude, reminisce about memorable experiences, and feast on the bounties of life.  But why reserve appreciation for one special weekend? Especially since expressions of sincere gratitude toward patients promotes healing as well as patient engagement.  By extension, appreciation expressed to staff has a direct impact on how they interact to support patient engagement.  And at macro level, expressions of thanksgiving can enhance the tone within professional and community environments year-round.  Sue Jacques of The Civility CEO® writes about this in Physicians Practice.

Patient engagement is enhanced by gratitude

Kind words of appreciation with patients and staff go a long way toward building patient engagement and inspiring staff to support it.  Current research is validating that gratitude can even improve overall health and well-being. In this 10-minute video, Dr. Jeffrey Huffman, director of the cardiac psychiatry research program at Massachusetts General Hospital and associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, shares some interesting medical findings from the Gratitude Research in Acute Coronary Events (GRACE) project, which is exploring “the impact of gratitude on biology and behavior in persons with heart disease.”

Appreciation sets the atmosphere

The results of feeling gratitude and appreciation extend beyond the recipients of thoughtful feedback, though.  Expressing spontaneous and genuine words of kindness have a kind of ripple effect on the benefactors of such sentiments, as well. Appreciation has demonstrated the power to ease tension among staff, speed recovery from internal team disputes, and stem the intensity of inevitable stress-related squabbles.  Dividends of an appreciated staff spill directly into patient engagement.  They’re more likely to extend more patience with difficult patients and to go the extra mile for patient consideration.  In the long run, giving thanks can lead to a more positive work environment and that environment is perceptible to sick patients.

Six simple tips to inspire genuine thankfulness

1. Focus on the positive. A simple shift in vernacular, like saying, “I’ll always remember …” instead of, “I’ll never forget …” can mark a pivotal point in adopting a more optimistic outlook. And, since optimism is at the heart of gratitude, it’s a great place to begin. Whenever possible, replace a negative word with a positive one, and watch your approach to appreciation evolve.

2. Say it like you mean it. Authenticity matters when it comes to saying thank you. Your body language can say something entirely different than your words. That’s why it’s wise to mono-task when sharing gratitude. If you’re in the presence of someone you’d like to thank, make an effort to stop whatever else you’re doing so you can make eye contact when you speak. The same is true when you’re talking on the phone, because even though they can’t see your face, people can sense the level of sincerity in your voice.

3. Send handwritten thank-you notes. It may sound primitive to some people, but a written note of appreciation can’t be beat, even in these days of instant communication. Though it takes a little more effort to write rather than type, text, or leave your message in a voice mail, an “old fashioned” note of thanks provides tangible, lasting evidence of your gratitude. People who would normally delete an electronic comment of gratitude will likely save a handwritten card, and they’ll remember you for sending it.

4. Compliment people freely, beginning by saying “you.” It’s subtle, but saying, “You are doing a great job” is preferable to saying, “I like the work you’re doing.” Why? By beginning with the word you, you’re shining a light on the other person’s attributes rather than focusing on your personal opinion about them. It’s a less subjective and more generous way to articulate an accolade. Generally speaking, it’s advisable to begin a compliment with the word you and an apology with the word I.

5. Share more kudos than complaints. Start taking note of the number of complaints vs. the number of kudos you give in a day. If there’s an imbalance favoring complaints, begin making changes. It may mean biting your tongue rather than grumbling about a grievance or coming up with a constructive solution to a longstanding concern. Either way, you’ll likely find that the people you work with are more pleasant and easygoing when you stop constantly complaining about your worries and woes.

6. Thank people you wouldn’t normally thank. Spending extended amounts of time with the same people — in your personal and professional life — can lead to complacency when it comes to thanking them for the things they do. Reach out to long-term staff members, familiar colleagues, and faithful family and friends to let them know how much you value their support. But don’t stop there. Willingly share random words of appreciation with strangers, newcomers, patients, and providers. As you prepare to count your blessings this Thanksgiving, please remember to share your gratitude daily.

You’ll be thankful you did.

Sue Jacques is The Civility CEO®, a veteran forensic medical investigator turned corporate civility consultant, professional speaker, and author. Jacques helps individuals and businesses gain confidence, earn respect, create courteous corporate cultures, and prosper through professionalism.  This article is published in Physicians Practice.

Patient engagement is a component of sound marketing strategy

At Carestruck, we approach healthcare strategy from the inside out, including the team dynamics of front office staff in measure patient engagement and satisfaction.  Experience has proven that even brilliant marketing initiatives can be sabotaged by uninformed or disenchanted staff.  To convert word of mouth and community outreach to a steady flow of new patients, we offer customized training and online seminars on patient engagement.  Here we’re often reviewing practices intuitive to healthcare professionals, but lost in translation in an increasingly consumer-driven environment, or forgotten all together under the stress of constant change.  These activities, when practiced daily and supported through expressions of sincere appreciation, can have a ripple effect on increasing word-of-mouth.

We also show clients how the reinforcement of positive teamwork and direction to active points of connectivity can inspire word-of-mouth referrals.