Physicians and Philanthropy: Make it Easy and Make It Quick

This is not a new subject. We know that the number one influencer of patient giving is the physician. Many philosophies exist around physicians and grateful patient programs.

To be successful, Chief Development Officers must overcome the increasingly difficult barrier for physicians to invest their personal capital and earned income created by the demand for higher volumes of patients to be treated in today’s healthcare environment.

Before getting to how to make it easy for the physician, let’s think about how development programs engage their doctors:

  1. The most basic programs ask physicians to be donors. These programs usually also have physicians ask others to give, the older model of a campaign. This model is evaluated on how many physicians give and the total raised. Funds can be raised; however, this does nothing to enhance patient relationships.
  2. A step up is a program that develops physicians as collaborators. This model is usually focused on campaign themes or service lines with qualified patient prospects contacted typically by direct mail or other non-face to face campaigns. Again, this can raise funds, but lack of face-to-face contact does not enhance the physician-patient relationships.
  3. For the vast majority of healthcare institutions, the best program, in my opinion, works with a small cadre of physicians who clearly understand the value and culture of philanthropy and have the influence as highly respected professionals to leverage the reputation to open the door to qualified patients.

Let’s think about the culture that surrounds physician engagement. Some aspects can be managed by the development office. Their staff must make it as easy as possible for a physician to be at minimum helpful, or even better, to be a roaring advocate. Some aspects do not fall under the staff’s umbrella.

Here are three things that development professionals cannot control, but have substantial impact on physician engagement:

  1. The physician is known for the highest degree of clinical and interpersonal care to patients, often described as spending appropriate amounts of clinical time with patients and assuring easy and reliable access for patient communication.
  2. The physician fosters a deep and meaningful relationship with patients well beyond the clinical care. Physicians describe this as being attentive to the uniqueness of each person and their lives, particularly about how the clinical situation impacts the patients’ worlds.
  3. The culture of the healthcare institution reflects the support of physicians, despite severe financial restraints. It is critical that physicians feel valued in their hospitals.

There are at least two primary areas where the development office can make it easy for physicians to participate.

  1. The physicians, usually during conversations with patients in clinical settings, listen for clues, often subtle. If a patient says, “I don’t know what I would have done without finding you.” This is often a clue that the physician can begin to discuss a new project or program of perhaps mutual interest to the patient and encourage support of the cause. Development professionals should select several physicians who find themselves in these types of situations and can respond appropriately. Then work with them to uncover how they are able to help with the patient engagement program, as well as how they want to receive information, training and support.
  2. Always do your homework. Development offices have tools today to uncover patients who have both the capacity and propensity for generosity when properly motivated. That group can be segmented by physicians and prioritized for them. Do not ask the physician to come up with the list. Take a list to them and ask them to think about who received exceptional clinical care. Ask them to think more deeply about the ones with whom they built attentive and close relationships, those whose lives may have been changed, if not saved. Then let them help you by opening the door to the most likely grateful patients.

Today, some philanthropy departments can provide more net revenue than many clinical departments within even the largest institutions. With physicians who provide amazing clinical and interpersonal care, as well as have a willingness to help your cause, funds will flow and patients will be satisfied. It’s a win-win for all involved.