Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Handshakes, Sensitivity Boost Doctor-Patient Rapport

(HealthDay News) -- Most patients want a personal relationship with their doctor, evidenced through simple actions such as shaking hands and having the doctor greet them by their first name, a new study finds.

"The first few moments of a medical encounter are critical to establishing a rapport, making the patient feel comfortable and setting the tone of the interview," wrote a team at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

They surveyed 415 adults about their expectations and preferences for being greeted by doctors and found:

Just over 78 percent wanted doctors to shake their hands, while about 18 percent did not.

More than half (50.4 percent) wanted their first names used during greetings, about 17 percent preferred their last name was used, and nearly a quarter (23.6 percent) wanted doctors to use both their first and last names.

Just over 56 percent of patients wanted doctors to introduce themselves using first and last names, 32.5 percent wanted doctors to use their last name, and about 7 percent wanted doctors to use their first name.

The researchers also videotaped 123 new patient visits with 19 different doctors. They found that:

Doctors and patients shook hands about 83 percent of the time.

In 50.4 percent of visits, doctors did not mention patients' names at all.

Doctors used their first and last names when introducing themselves in 58.5 percent of the meetings, and did not introduce themselves at all in about 11 percent of the visits.

"Physicians should be encouraged to shake hands with patients but remain sensitive to nonverbal cues that might indicate whether patients are open to this behavior," the study authors wrote. "Given the diversity of opinion regarding the use of names, coupled with national patient safety recommendations concerning patient identification, we suggest that physicians initially use patient's first and last names and introduce themselves using their own first and last names."

The study is published in the June 11 issue of the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.

More information
The American Academy of Family Physicians offers advice on choosing a family doctor.

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