Physician Partnerships in Grateful Patient Fundraising and a New Era of HIPAA

Patients and their family members are the major source of most hospital philanthropy. Indeed, hospitals have a unique relationship with this constituency, as they have a special duty and responsibility to them. That relationship can be based on deep life-altering experiences or simple routine encounters. As in the case of all major gift development, relationship building is part and parcel of a successful grateful patient program. It includes a relationship built with the physician and the patient.  In hospital fundraising, the relationships with top prospective donors are almost always formed first with and by the physicians.

As the current HIPAA regulations have evolved and now taken effect, development officers have a new and expanded opportunity to work with their physician partners on behalf of the institution’s mission. Identifying patients with both a propensity and capacity to support the hospital requires an institution-wide commitment to the development enterprise, from the advocate who greets patients at the front desk to the physicians. The most successful hospital philanthropy programs openly recognize and communicate their dependence upon philanthropy and its role in making services and programs possible.  They also actively engage physicians in the process, even in the midst of their demanding schedules.  A critical first step is arming staff and physicians with information about the advancement program and who to contact if asked. Information about philanthropy and the advancement office should be included in employee orientations, in physician and physician practice meetings and regularly in hospital-wide meetings.

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Here are a few approaches and tools that have proven successful in involving doctors in the philanthropy program, whether it is for a campaign, the annual fund or for special initiatives.

·      Monthly meeting with the chief of the service or department chair:  Review and approve progress toward fundraising goals and objectives; update status of high level prospects;  review the chief’s assignments and assigned prospects; determine next steps of your work together.

·      Development primer at department or service meeting:  Make sure the doctors on your staff understand the “ins and outs” of the development program; what are the principal fundraising objectives, how does the development enterprise benefit their objectives, their practice and the overall institution’s goals, how can they play a role?

       Tools:  Your partners need to be knowledgeable and well armed with timely information.  Simple, but attractive takeaways are essential, including the contact information for the development personnel; fast facts about the funding objectives; the percentage of the institution’s revenue that is supported by philanthropy; quick figures on the relevance to the community; and how to give. However, a word of caution: use narratives minimally!

·      Development coaching:  “What does it mean for me to be a partner to the development team?”  Many institutions have been utilizing both media and philanthropy coaching with great success. We prefer coaching to “training.”  Helping your physician partners understand the variety of roles they can play in the philanthropy process goes a long way in alleviating anxiety about encroachment on the physician-patient relationship.  Provide samples of simple language that help them first know how to respond to patients that are interested in philanthropy and next why philanthropy is important to your programs.  I have sat with many physicians while they “practiced” their conversations before I have accompanied them on donor visits.  We’ve discussed the scenario and outcomes we hope to achieve, the part each of us will play in opening, guiding and closing the conversation, and we practiced! Physicians especially need to understand that as much of the call is about listening as it is about delivery! Finally, use coaching to reinforce their understanding of the changes in HIPAA regulations.

·      Create a physician-philanthropy speaker’s bureau:  We need physicians who we can call on to speak on a variety topics and it is important we do not call on the same ones routinely.  This is a great time to reinforce physician partnerships, build your own relationships, and coach on the philanthropic agenda.

·      Create a Physician Philanthropy Leadership Council:  Leading by example, this council meets regularly, perhaps only quarterly, to assist and guide the grateful patient program.  They help to enlist other more reluctant members of the staff, review and guide philanthropic strategies at the hospital, and serve as high-level representatives to complement the CEO’s role.

Grateful patient fundraising is one of the most gratifying areas of health care philanthropy.  It requires a high degree of judgment, sensitivity and intense listening.  Grateful patient donors have a very keen interest in knowing how their gifts will make a difference in the institution’s mission, advance new knowledge in the field, and lead to eventual cures.