ntroducing ourselves when we answer the phone or enter a patient’s room is a simple action, but often one that is overlooked and underrated. One study reported that first-year residents didn’t introduce themselves in 3 of 5 inpatient encounters. It's easy to see how this five-second action has eroded more broadly in our culture–when is the last time you answered the phone and didn’t know who was on the other end? However, this core communication behavior continues to be one of the easiest ways to establish connection with a patient or their caregiver.
Knowing the name and role of the person caring for you supports the delivery of safe, compassionate, and inclusive care.
Build the foundation for trust that “I’m safe.” In survey comments, patients often tell us that they weren’t sure who was helping them or if the person was a nurse, an assistant, or a therapist. A simple introduction to share your name and your role helps a patient know they are in good hands, and helps them understand what level of care they can expect.
Build respect. In healthcare, we are privy to many vulnerable details about a patient’s life–their medical history, their psychiatric history, parts of their body, their family. Despite our structured consent processes, patients often feel powerless and at the mercy of others during their medical care. Providing your name and role demonstrates respect, especially at a time when the patient feels vulnerable.
Improve understanding of care. Multiple studies have shown that introductions, including both verbal and visual tools like badges, whiteboards, and business cards, improve patient recognition of their care team members which leads to improved clinician-provider communication. Additional studies have demonstrated an associated improvement in understanding of the next step in the care plan.
Decrease misidentification and bias. Just like in other parts of our lives, health care reflects both implicit and explicit bias. Females, especially resident physicians, are more likely to report being misidentified and receiving gender-based aggressive comments. Using simple tools to introduce oneself has shown to reduce misidentification and improve workplace experience.
What you say (and don’t say) matters
Patients want us to be authentic, not a fake version of “onstage.” Health care is unlike any other service industry. Because of the anxiety and vulnerability embedded in health care, patients and caregivers are particularly attuned to what we say and how we say it.
Take a few seconds before you enter a room or make a call to build awareness of both your mindset and the potential mindset of the patient. How are you feeling? Are you rushing from task to task? Even if you’re feeling distracted, building recognition of your own mindset supports being present with the patient. And likewise, how do you think the patient feels? Has there been any miscommunication with others? Taking a few seconds to build empathy for the patient can help frame your introduction, and your conversation, in a more productive way.
Every role matters. We hear many care team members say something like “I’m just the nurse,” or “I’m just the assistant.”
No matter the role, every person is in a position of great influence and power in the experience of the patient and caregiver.
A simple framework for introductions
Make eye contact and shake hands if appropriate
Introduce yourself by name.
Explain your role and/or why you’re there. “I’m going to go over some questions with you before your procedure.”
Before you leave or hang up, ask if the patient has any concerns or needs anything else.