I do a lot of seminars and workshops, and one technique that improves my rapport with and acceptance by the audience is to shake hands with as many attendees as possible. Interestingly, a study published in the June 11 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that while a large majority (78.1%) did want their physicians to shake their hands, a significant minority – about 18% – did not. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also published an article on the study. Here are the study’s highlights from the abstract:
Results: Most (78.1%) of the 415 survey respondents reportedthat they want the physician to shake their hand, 50.4% wanttheir first name to be used when physicians greet them, and56.4% want physicians to introduce themselves using their firstand last names; these expectations vary somewhat with patientsex, age, and race. Videotapes revealed that physicians andpatients shook hands in 82.9% of visits. In 50.4% of the initialencounters, physicians did not mention the patient’s name atall. Physicians tended to use their first and last names whenintroducing themselves.
Conclusions Physicians should be encouraged to shake handswith patients but remain sensitive to nonverbal cues that mightindicate whether patients are open to this behavior. Given thediversity of opinion regarding the use of names, coupled withnational patient safety recommendations concerning patient identification,we suggest that physicians initially use patients’ first andlast names and introduce themselves using their own first andlast names.
I would certainly make a point of addressing your patient by name, and perhaps even ask how they prefer to be called – many people have “nicknames” that are far removed from their given name, and not everyone uses even the short form of their name. My name is “Peter”, and only my brothers and some nieces and nephews call me “Pete”.
Any staff member – including physicians – should identify themselves to the patient by their name and position, to wit: “My name is Joan Lester and I’m a medical assistant for Dr. Baldwin.” If the staff person is going to “do” something to the patient – take vitals, draw blood, whatever – they should tell the patient what they are going to do. As I’ve written before, I believe that all staff should wear photo ID. This is helpful to patients, but it is also very important if there is an emergency requiring building evacuation. Unlikely, perhaps, but it only takes once.
So smile, extend a hand, and introduce yourself.