“Hello, Mr. Jones!”
I reach to shake his hand as I enter the exam room. “You look great! How are things going?”“I’m doing just fine,”
he replies. “PLEASE call me Ken,”
he adds. “Um, okay,”
I respond, but I will probably never call him by his first name.
Ever since I was in training, I have addressed patients by their last name: “Mrs. Thompson,”
or “Mr. Silverman,”
or “Ms. White.”
Despite this, some patients insist at every opportunity that I address them by their first name. Occasionally, patients call me by my first name. I don’t protest when they do this, but I continue to call them by “Mr.”
Names are a funny thing in a professional setting. When I am getting an X-ray or lab test myself, the technologist usually calls me “Bruce.”
Their training must assume that by adopting an unearned sense of intimacy, the patient is put at ease. When I was in medical school, however, most of my role models maintained professional distance and decorum whenever they addressed their patients. These mentors would never have dreamed of addressing a patient by his or her first name.
What does using a first name imply? In social settings, taking the step to using a first name implies intimacy and friendship. On the other hand, calling someone by his or her first name can also assume a sense of power over that individual. Even the ancients felt this.
So, I continue to address my patients the old-fashioned way. My philosophy of patient care seeks neither intimacy with my patients nor power over them. If I begin using a patient’s first name, I worry that the important relationship between patient and physician will be irreparably altered and also realize that, for some of my patients, a dreadful day will arrive when they will need a physician who is objective rather than one who is intimate.
|The following is feedback received for this blog:|
||I agree with you - addressing patients by their last names (especially in your first encounter) is respectful and sets the tone for a professional H&P. As a general rule of thumb, I think of last names as an extension of the white coat - wherever you'd find it appropriate to wear the coat, you address your patients formally. So, in pediatrics you might not wear the coat... and perhaps not in psychiatry. Otherwise, it's a good idea. |
By the way, LOVE your blog. Will add you to my blog roll. :)
- Val Jones
||Thank you for treating your patients with dignity. Being addressed by my first name by a medical tech who is half my age does not put me at ease; it makes me uncomfortable and angry at the presumption. Having to wear one of those hospital gowns is bad enough!|