Patient Care

Name Recognition, Personalization Key to Patient Experience


Editor’s note: “Everything We Say and Do” is an informational series developed by SHM’s Patient Experience Committee to provide readers with thoughtful and actionable communication tactics that have great potential to positively impact patients’ experience of care. Each article will focus on how the contributor applies one ormore of the “key communication” tactics in practice to maintain provider accountability for “Everything we say and do that affects our patients’ thoughts, feelings and well-being.”

What I Say and Do

I address patients by their preferred name and introduce myself with my full name.

Dr. Hoffman

Dr. Hoffman

Why I Do It

I have been surprised by how little discussion I have seen regarding how we address our patients. All the literature I have seen tells us that patients generally prefer first names, yet most doctors use last names. They also want us to introduce ourselves with our first and last name.

I have really found that using a first name personalizes the encounter a lot more than the formal Mr. or Mrs. Jones. Take, for example, “I am sorry you are still in pain, Mr. Jones,” versus, “I am sorry you are still in pain, Bill.”

Or for a family meeting regarding end of life: “What would Mrs. Jones want from us at this point in her life?” versus “What would Jenny want from us at this point in her life?”

I know that, for me personally, I feel treated more like an individual when someone uses my first name versus my last. This may seem like a small point, but I think it can truly improve communication and connectedness.

How I Do It

About four years ago, I began starting every encounter by addressing my patients by their first and last name. I then ask them what they would prefer to be called. Every patient has responded with either their first name or with a preferred nickname.

I always introduce myself as Dr. Rob Hoffman. About 90% of patients call me Dr. Hoffman, and the rest call me Rob. I used to be taken aback by being called Rob but eventually realized how egocentric that was. What should I care what my patient calls me? TH

Dr. Hoffman is a clinical associate professor and medical director for patient relations at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics and University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison.

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