BACKGROUND: Thank you letters to physicians and medical facilities are an untapped resource, providing an invaluable glimpse into what patients notice and appreciate in their care. OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to analyze such thank you letters as posted on the Web by medical institutions to find what patients and families consider to be good care. In an age of patient-centered care, it is pivotal to see what metrics patients and families apply when assessing their care and whether they grasp specific versus general qualities in their care. METHODS: Our exploratory inquiry covered 100 thank you letters posted on the Web by 26 medical facilities in the United States and the United Kingdom. We systematically coded and descriptively presented the aspects of care that patients and their families thanked doctors and medical facilities for. We relied on previous work outlining patient priorities and satisfaction (Anderson et al, 2007), to which we added a distinction between global and specific evaluations for each of the already existing categories with two additional categories: general praise and other, and several subcategories, such as treatment outcome, to the category of medical care. RESULTS: In 73% of the letters (73/100), physicians were primarily thanked for their medical treatment. In 71% (71/100) of the letters, they were thanked for their personality and demeanor. In 52% cases (52/100), these two aspects were mentioned together, suggesting that from the perspective of patient as well as the family member, both are deemed necessary in positive evaluation of medical care. Only 8% (8/100) of the letters lacked reference to medical care, personality or demeanor, or communication. No statistically significant differences were observed in the number of letters that expressed gratitude for the personality or demeanor of medical care providers versus the quality of medical care (chi21, N=200=0.1, not statistically significant). Letters tended to express more specific praise for personality or demeanor, such as being supportive, understanding, humane and caring (48/71, 68%) but more general praise for medical care (chi21, N=424=63.9, P<.01). The most often mentioned specific quality of medical care were treatment outcomes (30/73, 41%), followed by technical competence (15/73, 21%) and treatment approach (14/73, 19%). A limitation of this inquiry is that we analyzed the letters that medical centers chose to post on the Web. These are not necessarily a representative sample of all thank you letters as are sent to health care institutions but are still indicative of what centers choose to showcase on the Web. CONCLUSIONS: Physician demeanor and quality of interaction with patients are pivotal in how laymen perceive good care, no less so than medical care per se. This inquiry can inform care providers and medical curricula, leading to an improvement in the perceived quality of care.
Miron-Shatz, T., Becker, S., Zaromb, F., Mertens, A., & Tsafrir, A. (2017). “A Phenomenal Person and Doctor”: Thank You Letters to Medical Care Providers. Interactive Journal of Medical Research, 6(2), e22. https://doi.org/10.2196/ijmr.7107