The way physicians greet new patients affects their future relationship, according to a new study by researchers at Northwestern University’s medical school. The study, which involved a telephone survey of 415 patients in 48 states and 123 videotaped encounters between physicians and first-time patients, is among the first to explore physicians’ greeting practices.

The report, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that although there is widespread consensus that physicians’ greetings set the tone for relationships, there is little empirical evidence about what constitutes an appropriate greeting.

Researchers found that 78% of those surveyed said they wanted a handshake from a physician and 56% said they wanted the introduction to contain the physician’s first and last name, as in "I’m Bob
Franklin." Thirty-two percent said they preferred the omission of a physician’s first name, as in "Dr. Franklin."

More women than men and more blacks than whites preferred use of physicians’ first and last names in introductions, which the authors said is seen as conveying "respect and reciprocity."

The videotaped encounters revealed that 83% of physicians shook hands with first-time patients, but that 51% did not use the patient’s name during their meeting.

The research team, led by Gregory Makoul, a professor in Northwestern’s division of internal medicine, recommends that a physician use his or her first name and surname as well as those of the patient.

[Washington Post, September 10, 2007]