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Whacky or Wonderful? Making Gift-Giving Memorable in Medical Practice Marketing

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

What’s the worst holiday gift idea that you've ever seen given to a doctor’s office? What’s the best? We’d like to hear from you on this one.

Caution sign with a lightbulb on it with "Fresh ideas" text underneathRight about now, medical practice administrators, physician liaison people, practice ambassadors,  physicians and hospital marketing executives are ramping up for the annual ritual of holiday gift giving. And there’s no shortage of whacky or wonderful ideas for one healthcare practice or hospital to give to a physician’s office.

Nationwide, doctors give gifts to referring doctors, ranging from cookies for the staff, to coffee makers, to turkeys to gift cards. Done right, giving a gift to the doctor and/or staff of a provider’s office can reinforce a professional referral relationship and build rapport. The trouble is, some ideas are good and some are, well, not so good.

Please tell us about your good or bad gift-giving or gift-getting experience. As idea starters, here are a few real-world examples we’ve encountered over the years.

  • Entertainment Coupon Book. You’ve seen these discount bundles; they’re pretty common. But that’s the problem. They are generally unremarkable, and someone has to spend some money to earn the discount.
  • A Harp Player? Really? Yep. A practice was prepared to hire a musician to play the harp in the office of referring doctors offices. That would have been memorable, but it risks being more disruptive to the practice than appreciated.
  • High Value Gift Cards. Would you consider a $500 value to be excessive? When gifts have a high monetary value, it raises ethical questions for both the giver and the recipient. What is the dollar-value threshold between “acceptable” and “over the top?”

Here are two fundamental ideas to consider when zeroing-in on a holiday gift idea for professional practices:

APPROPRIATE: The American Medical Association (AMA) and other professional societies offer guidelines about gifts to physicians from industry, usually meaning pharma/device companies. Guidelines about physician-to-physician gifts are less common. Health care attorney Stephen Kaufman tells us “there is no legal prohibition of which I am aware on the size of the gift you can give to a practice.”

In our experience, gifts to physicians or practices that range from $20 to $100 or $200 are common. The AMA guidelines speak of a benefit that extends to the patient. Your local or state professional group may offer further guidance or provide an opinion.

MEMORABLE: Well-meaning but unremarkable gifts make no lasting impression. Does anyone actually recall where each of those six fruitcakes came from? To make a memorable impression, focus on a gift idea that connects specifically to a personal interest of the doctor or the staff. A hobby or a core idea that the recipient is passionate about.

More gift ideas, from whacky to wonderful.

In somewhat random order, here are a few additional holiday gift ideas—both good and bad—that have come to us. Keep in mind that what’s right in one situation or context may or may not be the best answer for someone else.

  • Auto detailing service for all staff members. “Certificates for a waterless, eco-friendly car wash might also support an ecologically minded branding in some markets.”
  • House cleaning service. “Staff members enter a drawing, with one gift awarded per office.”
  • Edible arrangements, flavored popcorn, fruit cakes (and the like). “These are boring and over done.”
  • Gifts redirected to charity. “Not personal and not always appreciated. Can be more about the giver than the receiver.”
  • Family photo session for doctor or staff. “A popular, personal and memorable gift idea that can be repeated annually. Done in cooperation with professional photographer…either of doctor, staff or both. Can be used as the practice holiday greeting card.”

What can you add to this list? We’d like to hear about your experience with holiday gifts to a physician office. Your gift story can be whacky or wonderful, told as a giver or as a recipient. We probably will not be awarding a prize for the best story. But on the other hand…we do know where to find a harp player.

And if you’re still searching for a gift idea that’s unique and effective, give one of our consultants a call. They’d be pleased to help with memorable ideas.

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