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Patients School Doctors in Manners

Most Patients Want Doctors to Shake Their Hands and Introduce Themselves
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 12, 2007 -- When it comes to the doctor-patient relationship, patients have some pretty specific ideas about how they want their doctors to greet them when they first meet.

A new study shows that most patients want their doctors to shake their hands, greet them by name, and introduce themselves using their first and last name.

The researchers, who work in Chicago at Northwestern University's medical school, also recommend that doctors explain their role, such as telling the patient, "I'm Janet Jones, a resident working with Dr. Franklin."

After all, "greetings create a first impression that may extend far beyond what is conventionally seen as 'bedside manner,'" write Gregory Makoul, PhD, and colleagues in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

When Patient Meets Doctor

Makoul's team interviewed 415 U.S. adults by telephone about how they want their doctors to greet them.

Patients were 18-88 years old (average age: 47). Most were white women.

The patients answered these questions:

  • How would you want doctors to greet you the first time you meet?
  • Would you want them to shake your hand?
  • Would you want them to use your first name only, your last name, or both?
  • Should doctors introduce themselves using their first name only, their last name, or both?
  • Is there anything else a doctor should do when meeting you for the first time?

The researchers also videotaped 123 greetings between doctors and new patients.

Patients' Views

Most patients -- 78% -- said they wanted their doctor to shake their hand.

Half said they want their doctor to greet them by their first name. Nearly a quarter said they wanted to be greeted by their first and last name.

Another 17% said they only wanted their last name used (for instance, calling them "Ms. Smith"). African-American patients were particularly likely to express that preference.

The patients also had specific ideas about how they wanted their new doctor to introduce himself or herself.

More than half of patients -- 56% -- said they wanted their doctor to introduce themselves using their first and last name. Thirty-two percent said they wanted their doctors just to use their last name. Relatively few -- 7% -- said they wanted their doctor just to use his or her first name; the rest expressed no preference.

Less than half of the patients answered the question about other things their doctor should do when they first meet. Their top requests were for doctors to do the following:

  • Smile
  • Be friendly, personable, polite, respectful, calm, and attentive
  • Make the patient feel like a priority
  • Make eye contact with them

In most of the videos -- 82% -- doctors and patients shook hands. But in half of the videotaped doctor-patient meetings, half of the doctors never mentioned the patient's name at all.

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