Does Addressing Patients by Name Make a Difference?

Share this Article

Myth or Not: Addressing Patients by Name Makes a Difference

First, a big thank you to Jennifer D. who serves as a Medical Office Coordinator for one of our beloved M3 clients. Jennifer suggested the topic for this week’s Myth Debunking opportunity: Does addressing a patient by their name when talking with them make a difference?

Jennifer states, “I think it does.” I happen to agree, even so, let’s do some research and see what we can find.

Jennifer, thank YOU for taking time to submit this week’s topic! Much appreciated!!

Simple Yet Powerful

Before we jump into this week’s topic, I must give a shout out to one of our regular Thinking Thursdays TIPs readers. After reviewing last week’s topic, “Myth or Not: A Genuine Smile Makes a Significant Difference” Barbara A., Director of Service Excellence for a large health system, emailed me the following.

“This is a good one! Have to share some stickers we’re launching to promote masks … these are disposable stickers my colleagues can wear on their scrubs and replace daily.”

When I asked Barbara if she was intending to share the stickers with the readership of Thinking Thursday TIPs, Barbara replied, “You are welcome to share the stickers! They were a team effort: Linda S., our Most Amazing Division Director of Quality, came up with the idea; I wrote the copy and our genius designer, Kristi B. made them so cute! We shared the full slate of designs with a group of practice managers and got their input, too.”

So, a huge thank YOU to Barbara and her colleagues.

Barbara, we appreciate your team’s innovativeness, creativity, and generosity! My hope is other healthcare professionals will find use of your team’s simple, yet powerful idea to place ‘smiley’ stickers on scrubs as a great first step to create a warm and welcoming experience for patients, especially during these COVID-19 trying times.

There is Power in a Name

Now on to this week’s topic: Myth or Not: Addressing Patients by Name Makes a Difference.

Addressing someone by their name has been drilled into us for so long, and so often, it seems to be second nature and falls into the category of, “that just makes common sense”. Here at MedicalGPS, as part of our service improvement program, Endeavor for Excellence: Start Where the Patient Starts, we teach the importance of addressing the patient by name, specifically the patient’s preferred name.

“A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” – Dale Carnegie.

According to The Washington Post article titled, “Career Coach: The power of using a name”, by Joyce E. A. Russell, we find the following.

“Why is it so important to use people’s names? A person’s name is the greatest connection to their own identity and individuality. Some might say it is the most important word in the world to that person.

It is the one way we can easily get someone’s attention. It is a sign of courtesy and a way of recognizing them. When someone remembers our name after meeting us, we feel respected and more important. It makes a positive and lasting impression on us. To not remember a name, especially when someone has had to repeat it several times, is to make that person feel slighted.” [underline mine for emphasis] (1)

What NOT To Do

In the Entrepreneur article, “10 Behaviors People Find Condescending”, by Frances Dobbs, it is noted using nicknames such as “honey,” “sweetie,” “boss,” “big guy,” “chief,” and other such generic nicknames is a BIG mistake and comes across as demeaning. It seems these type nicknames are not used as often as they once were, but I still hear them from time to time.

“The alternative to one-size-fits-all nicknames isn’t too hard to implement and works every time. You can just learn people’s actual names.” (2)

It only takes a few seconds to introduce yourself, using your preferred name, and in turn, the person you are interacting with will most likely give you their name in return. If they don’t offer their name, having just introduced yourself opens the perfect segue to ask, “and may I ask, what is your name?”.

Once they give you their name, set it to memory! An effective technique to remember another person’s name is to immediately repeat their name. Say something like, “Thank you Jerry, I appreciate you sharing your name with me.” Then, use their name often during your encounter.

If you forget someone’s name during an encounter, it’s ok to ask for their name again, but avoid asking someone multiple times for their name. Most of us will forgive someone for forgetting our name, maybe once, but repeatedly forgetting someone’s name is a huge downer. It’s best to set the person’s name to memory and use it often. It makes them feel valued, important and conveys the message that you care.

In the health section of The Atlantic, in the article named, “Bad News for People Who Can’t Remember Names, Everyone’s social nightmare might have lasting effects on relationships”, by Paul Bisceglio, I found the following quote from Laura King, a psychologist at the University of Missouri, as it relates to forgetting someone’s name.

“It’s an insult, even though it’s completely innocent and we have absolutely no desire to hurt the person’s feelings. You just told that person they’re a zero.” (3)

How Do We Remember Names?

If you are like me, and I imagine many other people are, forgetting someone’s name is way too easy to do.

Here’s a Forbes article, “The Five Best Tricks To Remember Names”, by Kristi Hedges that provides some good techniques to help us set names to memory. (4)

1. Meet and repeat
2. Spell it out
3. Associate
4. Make connections
5. Choose to care

I love that the article leaves us with a choice to CARE.

I would argue remembering someone’s name is the first step towards caring, and since we’re in the ‘business’ of caring, what better way to get off to a great start with a new relationship, or to nurture long standing relationships.

Let’s remember each other’s name and show we care.

Confirmed. Addressing Patients by Name Makes a Difference

Please let us know if you have comments or questions, and subscribe to our Email Updates, so that you can be assured to receive Thinking Thursdays TIPs.

Thank you!

Jerry L. Stone
MedicalGPS, LLC.

(1)The Washington Post article titled, “Career Coach: The power of using a name”, by Joyce E. A. Russell
(2)Entrepreneur article, “10 Behaviors People Find Condescending”, by Frances Dobbs
(3)“Bad News for People Who Can’t Remember Names, Everyone’s social nightmare might have lasting effects on relationships”, by Paul Bisceglio
(4)Forbes article, “The Five Best Tricks To Remember Names”, by Kristi Hedges

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *