Proper Introductions at Your Practice Are Critical to Patient Relations

March 7, 2012

In the medical world, the way you introduce yourself and others can make or break your relationships - with patients, their families, and your colleagues.

We've all experienced that awkward moment when introductions aren't made and we end up looking at each other, wondering what to say. This usually happens when we forget someone's name or they forget ours, and can be especially uncomfortable in professional situations.

In the medical world, the way you introduce yourself and others can make or break your relationships - with patients, their families, and your colleagues.

The anatomy of an introduction

A good introduction consists of five "P"s:

• Preparation (knowing who's who);
• Precedence (understanding where people stand in the hierarchy);
• Pattern (establishing a consistent technique);
• Pronunciation (saying names clearly and correctly); and
• Parallels (adding a point of commonality).

Use each of these elements when you meet and greet others to ensure that all the bases are covered.

Introducing yourself

Even if you're chief of staff, presume that people won't always remember your name. Don't become annoyed when someone forgets; we're all busy and most of us have difficulty retaining names, especially when we're faced with a medical crisis or concern. It's advisable to regularly remind people what your name is, because most folks feel uncomfortable asking.

• Introducing yourself to a patient. When meeting a patient for the first time, make eye contact, extend your hand (when appropriate) and personalize the introduction by saying something like, "Hello Mr. Wong, I'm Dr. Smith, the orthopedic surgeon who will be performing your hip replacement." If family members or friends are in the room, acknowledge them as well.

It is prudent to address people with an honorific (Mr., Mrs., Dr., Miss, or Ms.), unless they ask you to call them by their first name. Let people know if you prefer to be called by your given name by inviting them to do so: "I'm Dr. Smith, and it's OK for you to call me Julia if you like."

• Introducing yourself to another physician. Introducing yourself to your medical colleagues is vital. Don't wait for them to begin the interaction; take the initiative and initiate the process. When doing so, include WHO you are, WHAT you do, WHERE you're from, and WHY you're there.

• Introducing yourself to other staff. It takes an entire team to care for a patient, and each member of that team deserves to know who you are. From housekeeping and security personnel to nursing, radiology, physiotherapy, and paramedical staff (to name just a few), all are human beings who are worthy of being treated with respect. When you're wondering whether or not to address someone, remember that they play a role in your success. Sharing your name and learning theirs will enhance your professional relationships.

Introducing others

There is a distinct pecking order in the medical world. Though gender and age are no longer factors when making business introductions, knowing where people are positioned is crucial. The basic rule of thumb is this: Always say the name of the person in the position of highest authority first, and then introduce others to them.

• Introducing a physician to a patient. Your patient is automatically the person of highest precedence - no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Here's how it's done: "Mr. Wong, I'd like to introduce Dr. Smith, the orthopedic surgeon who will be performing your hip replacement surgery. Dr. Smith, this is Mr. Wong." Note that the physician is introduced to the patient, not the other way around.

• Introducing one physician to another. This is where precedence is critical, because you need to know who's who in order to perfect the introduction. Remember to say the name of the senior authority first, and then present others to them. Here's an example: "Dr. Smith, I'd like to introduce Dr. Quinn Matlin, one of our ER residents. Dr. Matlin, this is Dr. Julia Smith, the orthopedic surgeon you called to consult on Mr. Wong's case." If you know the first name of one person and not the other, it's best to leave given names out of the introduction.

• Introducing a physician to a group. When making a group introduction, say the name of the physician first, and then introduce the group, like this: "Dr. Smith, welcome to our practice. I'm Jennifer Martin, the team leader, and I'd like to introduce our receptionist, Sara Davis, and our records clerk, Merv Wallace. Sara, Merv, this is Dr. Julia Smith."

Once introductions have been made, be sure to regularly use names in conversation. When you forget someone's name, promptly remedy the situation. Simply let them know that you remember meeting them but their name has slipped your mind.

Sue Jacques is The Civility CEO™, a veteran forensic medical investigator turned corporate civility consultant who helps individuals and businesses gain confidence, earn respect and create courteous corporate cultures. www.TheCivilityCEO.com.