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AHP Connect delivers updates on industry news and research, educational and professional opportunities, best practices and other articles related to health care philanthropy.

Creating partnerships with caregivers

Published:  04/15/2015

Originally published in the April 15, 2016 AHP Connect

The following article is based on an AHP webinar presented on February 17, 2016, by Cindy Reynolds, chief development officer for Bon Secours Health System, and Darrell Godfrey, senior vice president for Advancement Resources.

The relationship between physicians and their patients is a sacred one—and development professionals are fully aware of this. How then can your team effectively educate caregivers to establish trust, rapport and regular patient referrals to your development office? How can trust and understanding be mutually established between caregivers and development staff?

Continuous research has shown that after a meaningful health care experience, patients and families often express gratitude by giving back as part of their healing process. Reynolds and Godfrey say the key to successful physician engagement is twofold: 1) provide caregivers with knowledge on the benefits of philanthropy and their appropriate and ethical roles; and 2) overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of physician engagement.

Reynolds introduces five common hurdles related to caregiver engagement and how to strategically address them:

1. Common myths about philanthropy

When it comes to philanthropy, caregivers assume they are being asked to get a donation out of their patients. The development team has to clarify that caregivers are not by any means asked to be fundraisers, says Reynolds. Start by introducing the concept of philanthropy. Then, doctors and nurses can begin to understand how meaningful and healing the giving process can be for patients.

The role of caregivers is as simple as listening and watching for cues when a patient expresses a desire to engage further, such as giving thanks in a grateful manner. If that happens, the caregiver can make referrals to the development office. Philanthropy is all about engagement— and that may be just what patients need in order to heal.

2. Professional differences between development and health care

Most physicians and nurses decide on their profession at a young age, sacrificing to make it to where they are, whereas development professionals likely had a different career first and then “kind of fell into it.” Reynolds and Godfrey suggest you prepare answers for the following questions from caregivers: What about development makes you passionate? What about this career is fulfilling to you?

Many development professionals say it was an emotional experience that led them to this career path, but also be sure to bring up the training, certification and education that is required to do your job effectively. Emphasize your commitment to the mission of the hospital and build a bridge of mutual respect. Once caregivers understand the professional nature of the development world and what you’re trying to accomplish, the conversation changes and shifts to the importance of philanthropy.

3. Perspective and language differences

The terms “patient” and “prospect” may seem interchangeable to a development professional. To a caregiver, however, the person is his or her patient—never a prospect, says Godfrey. Be aware of how important language is and always use patient-first language. Be transparent with caregivers about the referral process and meet their expectations. At Bon Secours, Reynolds says her team embeds a development team member in each of the hospitals to extend face-to- face time with caregivers—building trust and familiarity in the referral process.

4. Perceived shortage of time

Reynolds emphasizes that it takes just as long to deflect and brush off gratitude from patients as it does to accept and reciprocate. Help caregivers understand that a patient’s gratitude is sincere and should not be minimized. Philanthropy is important to the entire health care system—it not only improves care, but also gives patients and their families a tangible way to express their gratitude.

When it comes time to introduce the referral process to physicians, ask for a 20minute meeting and stick to that time limit. Reynolds says it’s a “sweet spot,” because it’s not too long or too short to get the message across. During this meeting, bring up one or two people you identify as good candidates or ask caregivers for one or two patients that stood out to them with expressions of gratitude. Always have a basic level of respect for caregivers’ work and don’t take up too much of their time.

5. Lack of reciprocal interest

Do your research beforehand and show caregivers that you are sincerely interested in what they are doing day in and day out. For instance, there could be a new heart valve procedure that a doctor has been implementing in a minimally invasive way, so bring that up in your conversation to show you care. Intellectual curiosity means that you are informed and being proactive.

At the end of the day, caregivers should be active participants in the discussion of philanthropy. Your job is to ease any concerns caregivers may have, to respect the bond of the doctor-patient relationship, and to instill confidence in the efforts of the development team. The goal is to become professional partners who work in tandem rather than as separate entities.

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