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By Cathy Massaro, CCM, MSW

It is a very simple question, but do we as healthcare professionals ask it at the right times for the right reasons? Do we ask it to establish rapport with our patients or only to make sure the right patient is getting the right medical care? The timing of this question is important, but so is making a personal connection with a patient. Starting with, “What’s your name?”

When asking this question in the form of an introduction, you to them and them to you, it allows for both individuals to volunteer their preferred name they want used. As the care provider, you may tell them your name as you introduce yourself and the care you are about to give. They in turn may introduce themselves as Mr. or Mrs. Patient. However, they may also take the opportunity to ask you to call them by the name they most identify with such as their first name or a nickname. This very simple exchange can ease the way to more difficult conversations.

While you are getting to know your patient’s preferred name use the opportunity to inquire as to if they have a title, such as an advanced degree, license or profession. Make the extra effort to connect with your patient by getting the pronunciation right for your patient’s preferred name. This demonstrates courtesy and respect that can go a long way to engage your patient.

Go a bit beyond when you meet the patient’s families and get their names and relationships. This introduction can lead to critical patient information as to who is who, who is the decision maker for the patient if necessary and who is the leader within the family. Get their names, know who they are and talk with them as appropriate. This kind gesture goes a long way towards patient and family satisfaction.

Some things that can damage your connection with the patient include referring to them by their room number. Worse yet, referring to your patient by their diagnosis is a horrible way to acknowledge who you are talking with or about with other healthcare professionals.

Additionally, names of affection are just that. Names of affection between those who share affection. Sweetie, babe, honey, darling, sugar, pumpkin and other similar names are names of endearment between those who know each other and share an emotional connection. They are not names to call patients unless they request you do so. Many people including the elderly do not associate such names with the patient/care giver relationship. Nor should you.

Never assume you know what name your patient wants used in addressing them. Everyone is different with their own customs, culture and traditions. Additionally, patients are often vulnerable, afraid, fragile and dependent on care givers. Having a positive rapport developed by the comfort of hearing their preferred name used can help them feel at ease and assist you in giving them the medical care they need.

Finally, when you determine your patient’s preferred name, use it.

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