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Survey: most patients want to shake hands with their physicians
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CHICAGO—Most patients want physicians to shake their hands when they first meet, and about half want their first names used in greetings, according to a report in the June 11 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.


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“The first few moments of a medical encounter are critical to establishing rapport, making the patient feel comfortable and setting the tone of the interview,” the authors write as background information in the article.

Gregory Makoul, Ph.D., and colleagues at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, surveyed 415 adults in the United States between 2004 and 2005 regarding patient expectations and preferences for greetings by physicians. The authors also analyzed videotapes of 123 new patient visits in the offices of 19 different physicians in Chicago and Burlington, Vt.

The survey found that, among patients:

  • 78.1 percent wanted physicians to shake their hands, while 18.1 percent did not
  • 50.4 percent wanted their first names used during greetings, 17.3 percent preferred their last name and 23.6 percent favored the physician using both first and last names
  • 56.4 percent wanted physicians to introduce themselves using first and last names, 32.5 percent expected physicians to use their last name, and 7.2 percent would like physicians to use their first name only

In the videotaped encounters, physicians and patients shook hands 82.9 percent of the time. In 62 (50.4 percent) of the visits, physicians did not mention patients’ names at all, and in 48 (39 percent) of the cases patients’ names were not mentioned by physicians or patients. Physicians used their first and last names when introducing themselves 58.5 percent of the time, and did not introduce themselves at all in 14 visits (11.4 percent).

“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 authors conclude. “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 patients’ first and last names and introduce themselves using their own first and last names.”
(Arch Intern Med. 2007;167:1172-1176.

Editor's Note: This study was supported in part by the American Board of Medical Specialties Research and Education Foundation. Please see the article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.


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