Doctor-Patient Communication: What to Do When a Patient Says Thank You

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Let me show you four simple steps -- requiring just 15 seconds -- that will turn a thank you into a two-way healing encounter of the highest order.

It is so easy for "thank you" from a patient to slip by in the bustle of a busy day in the office, that we can fail to see the importance of those two words and the feelings behind them. They provide the opportunity for a deeper level of connection -- one that benefits both the patient and the doctor. What you do when a patient says "thank you" is actually a key to preventing your own physician burnout and creating the highest levels of patient satisfaction. Here's what I mean...

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, most doctors are so busy they miss the critical importance of these brief moments.

"Thank You" 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.
  • 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 this window of opportunity quickly slams shut. 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.

    Next time one of your patients says "thank you," try these four quick and simple steps...

    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 occasion 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 in and out breath.
    Allow their gratitude and acknowledgment for your care to soak in to your body -- in all the right places just the right amounts.

    4) Tell them "you're welcome" in whatever way feels authentic for you.
    Here's a potential example:

    "You're so welcome. Taking care of people like you is why I became a doctor. I am so glad you're feeling better."

    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 physician 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.


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

    Dike Drummond, M.D., is a family physician, executive coach and creator of the Burnout Prevention Matrix Report with over 117 ways doctors and healthcare organizations can work together to prevent physician burnout. He provides stress management, burnout prevention and leadership development services to physicians through his website,