Monday, July 23, 2012

The Importance of Letters - sharing 'my' soapbox with Dr. Moser

By Rod Moser, PA, PhD

Letter writing may be a dying art as communication is increasingly done through emails, Tweets, and Facebook postings. But I love going to the clinic and finding a letter on my desk, perhaps written by a grateful patient. While not all letters indicate good news, I find the written word so much more personal than getting an email.

I save letters (the good ones). I have a drawer full of feel-good letters and cards that I have collected. I save important emails, too, but they are unlikely to bear the test of time. Recently, I moved my office from one area of the clinic to another, so I found my collection. As I recover from shoulder surgery, it made me feel better to read a few.

I have written letters to patients. One letter in particular was written to a sedentary man who was 150 pounds overweight, diabetic, hypertensive, and having periodic chest pains. As much as I harped at him to make lifestyle changes before it was too late, I didn’t seem to be making an impact. I wrote him a letter telling him how worried that I was about his health. His reaction? He stopped coming to see me as a patient. About six months later, I got a call. He was in intensive care after having a heart attack. He called to tell me that my letter made a difference. As soon as he was discharged, he was now ready to make some changes.

Letters can make an impact. After my recent surgery, the anesthesiologist accidentally scratched both of my corneas, resulting in several days of unnecessary pain. It took him a week or so, but he sent me a letter of apology. It really made a difference and diffused much of my anger. Since medical providers make mistakes all of the time, it is really appropriate to acknowledge them and apologize. Some attorneys may question this as an admission of guilt, but it is the human thing to do.

I got a college graduation announcement from a young man today. His father, a PA colleague of mine, died of pancreatic cancer when he was just a child. I have stayed in touch with him and his family ever since, and today I will write him a letter. I will tell him how proud I am of his accomplishment. His father would have been proud, too.

It really doesn’t take very much time to send a handwritten letter. Don’t just send a card on a birthday, include a letter. For the price of a stamp (still a bargain), you have the potential to make an important impact on someone’s life. A hundred years from now, someone may pick up that letter and read it.

We have all learned to pay it forward, but perhaps we need to remember to write it forward, too.

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