Clinical Health Updates

Improving first impressions on patients is easy

Clinical Question:
How do patients expect to be greeted by their physician?

Bottom Line:
According to this telephone survey, patients prefer physicians who greet them with a simple handshake, who address them by their first name or first and last names, and who introduce themselves as “Dr Smith” or “Sara Smith,” but not as “Sara.”

Makoul G, Zick A, Green M. An evidence-based perspective on greetings in medical encounters. Arch Intern Med 2007;167:1172-1176.

Study Design:

Widely used models for teaching and assessing communication skills highlight the importance of greeting patients appropriately, but there is little evidence regarding what constitutes an appropriate greeting. To obtain data on patient expectations for greetings, the authors asked closed-ended questions about preferences for shaking hands, use of patient names, and use of physician names in a computer-assisted telephone survey of adults in the 48 contiguous United States. They also analyzed an existing sample of 123 videotaped new patient visits to characterize patterns of greeting behavior in everyday clinical practice. Most (78.1%) of the 415 survey respondents reported that they want the physician to shake their hand, 50.4% want their first name to be used when physicians greet them, and 56.4% want physicians to introduce themselves using their first and last names; these expectations vary somewhat with patient sex, age, and race. Videotapes revealed that physicians and patients shook hands in 82.9% of visits. In 50.4% of the initial encounters, physicians did not mention the patient’s name at all. Physicians tended to use their first and last names when introducing themselves.