Did anyone else catch the recent This American Life episode called “What Doesn’t Kill You?”  It featured a story about comedian Tig Notaro and her four months of sheer hell — which included a harrowing, life-threatening bout with C. difficile, a breast cancer diagnosis, and the unexpected, accidental death of her mother.  Ms. Notaro turned the experiences — amazingly — into a highly personal comedy set that has come to be regarded as a legendary performance.

There was much to love in the segment.  But, there was one small aspect of it that really made me the practice management consultant in me wince: the hospital survey that was sent to Notaro’s mother after her death.

Notaro made great comic lemonade out of the survey that asked her deceased mother if her hospital stay was comfortable, and if all procedures were clearly explained in language she could understand (Notaro’s mom was unconscious during her entire visit, and died at the hospital).  But, the comedy reflected the pain that the survey caused.

We’re all for surveying patients — it’s a wonderful way to learn what you need to know to improve your operations, and many patients will feel that you care more about them just because you asked for their feedback.  But, a mistake like mailing a survey to a deceased patient is really inexcusable — especially because it’s so easily avoided.  Did the hospital’s database fail to either track or remove deceased patients? 

If you’re mailing or emailing surveys or newsletters and tips to your patients to improve your practice and build on your patient relationships, good for you!  But, be sure you have processes in place to segment your lists and exclude specific patients from mailings that might upset them.  And be sure you have a routine in place to clean your lists periodically to remove patients who’ve moved or passed on.

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