Many retiring dentists picture themselves as US Navy Captain Brett Crozier. In April 2020, Captain Crozier stood on the deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt and delivered one final address to the staff before giving up command. He shared heartfelt words about his time as captain, and the assembled crowd cheered.
Similarly, it’s customary for a retiring dentist to write a letter to patients to inform them about the change in ownership.
Retiring dentists who write this letter must picture themselves as Captain Crozier. Perhaps they’re picturing the thousands of patients and dozens of staff they’ve helped in some way over the years. Maybe they imagine more than a few of those patients quietly wiping a tear from their cheek as they imagine getting dental work done by someone else. As a result, these letters to patients are bad. Really bad.
The right way to write a final letter to your patients
The letter to patients is the first marketing piece for a new owner of the practice. It is the buyer’s chance to make a positive first impression to the patient base and reduce or eliminate any patient attrition.
I recommend that letters to patients include the following elements:
- The letter is written with patients in mind, not the seller. This letter isn’t about what the seller wants to say, it’s about what patients want to know. Communicate is what the listener does. Patients want to know who the new doctor is and a little bit about him or her. Yes, they’re curious about where the seller is going, but mostly they want to know who they’re going to see on their next visit.
- The letter has positive and enthusiastic language. The practice is “welcoming” the new doctor in lieu of a more negative connotation such as “I’m leaving” or “I’m retiring.”
- The letter is short. It gets to the point and doesn’t bloviate.
- The letter includes a picture of the buyer and seller together with a smiling staff.
- The letter mentions the buyer’s ties to the community. Patients want to know that the buyer chose to buy this office. They’re looking for common ground on which they can build a new relationship with a new doctor.
Sellers predictably push back on my advice about letters to patients. “This is my chance to say goodbye to patients I’ve worked with for decades!”
The wrong way to think about writing a final letter to patients
First, think about when these letters are sent. They’re typically sent after the change in ownership. Sellers think that they are sending a message to “their” patients, but those patients don’t belong to them anymore, do they? The buyer just bought those patient records, right?
Second, if these relationships are so important to Mr. or Ms. Seller, is a mass mailing really the best option? If you want to stay in touch with a portion of your patient base and let them know how much you appreciated serving as their dentist, why don’t you give them a call and tell them that, or send a handwritten note just to them?
Most bad letters to patients include a few common elements:
- The focus is on the seller and his or her thoughts and feelings, not on the patient or buyer.
- It contains negative and sad language. “I’m leaving.” “I’m retiring.” “What will I do without my hundreds of thousands of dollars a year of your money?”
- The letter is way too long with big blocks of text that feel like homework to get through.
- There is no picture of the buyer.
If a letter to patients is in your future soon, put some thought into the recipients of the letters and what they want to know, not what you want to tell them. Also think about what the person who just borrowed hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay you would want.
Then, be sure to write a letter that is patient- and buyer-focused.