Mini habit #3

Use the patient’s name.

A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language” according to Dale Carnegie in his bestseller How to Win Friends and Influence People. (1) People love their names so much that they will often donate vast amounts of money just to have a building or foundation named after themselves.

Using a person’s name is the most obvious and efficient gateway to address their identity and individuality. It is one way we can easily gain their attention – note the reaction in a crowded waiting room when a patient’s name is called – immediate recognition and mutual understanding that the interaction is beginning, it’s their turn.

When an introduction proceeds well with a mutual exchange of names, it creates a good first impression demonstrating courtesy, a sense of equality and at the same time recognising each other’s individuality.

There is a belief for some people that they are ‘just not good with names’ – without debating whether this is a phenomenon or not there are still some tips we can use to help improve the situation.

  1. A recent UK study (in a dental teaching hospital) states – “patients preferred to be greeted informally by their first name and didn’t mind how the clinician introduced themselves, or preferred them to use their first name also”(2).
  2. My personal default is not to be over-familiar especially on initial interaction – if there is a significant age gap I tend to consider using titles Mr., Mrs. etc until the patient indicates otherwise. The Aussie habit of nicknaming and abbreviating should not be assumed – if in doubt, ask – “do you prefer Elizabeth or Liz?”.
  3. Try – when you meet somebody and you can’t exactly remember their name it’s appropriate to use some humility and enquire, “I’m not very good with names” or “I know your name but seeing you out of context it’s just not coming to me” – if you try and are correct they will be flattered, if not most people are very understanding and will correct you.
  4. Practice and rehearse – we have a huge advantage in our working environment in that we have a list with the names of clients that we are to see in a session. Take some time to check your list and mentally put faces to the name.
  5. Repeat – use the patient’s name during the treatment session to maintain the connection and give reassurance that you are still attending to them (especially during tasks where you are really focused on the technical work you are doing).
  6. For difficult names ask for a pronunciation – I hail from the land of Tadhgs, Saoirses, Eoghans and Caoimhes – if unsure just ask, and it helps to put a phonetic spelling in your record – they will be suitably impressed next time when you get it right!

Remember, people want to be treated as human beings, not objects. Using their name is a fail-safe way to connect, create a good first impression and build/ maintain a healthy rapport.

The arch enemy, Coca-Cola, used the power of naming and personalisation to huge success with the ‘Share a Coke’ campaign a few years back – introduced in Australia it was eventually rolled out over 50 countries with the most popular first-person names of each region printed on cans and bottles in place of the company’s moniker. The campaign helped “Coca-Cola achieve the largest year-over-year growth in 20-ounce packaging in its history – more than 19 percent”.


  1. Carnegie, D. How to Win Friends and Influence People. Random House. 2006.
  2. Davies-House et al. Meeting and greeting in the clinical setting – are we doing what patients want? BDJ 222, 457-461. 2017.

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