Introductions – easy to do, profound in their impact

Several months ago I accompanied my elderly relative to the emergency room. I sat in the room worrying as I wondered what might be causing his symptoms. Suddenly, a man entered the room and gruffly asked me, “how old is he?” After hearing my reply, the man walked over to the gurney, took hold of my relative’s wristband and asked what his name was. The man then proceeded to place ECG leads on the body of my frail and precious relative. As a physician, I knew that this man, pushing an ECG machine, was the ECG technician. I knew that he was doing a quick test to evaluate the electrical activity in the heart and that it would not hurt.

But what if I were a non-medical person? It would have been terrifying.

Too often, lost in our thoughts, thinking that what we are doing is routine, or rushing to “get everything done,” we enter a patient room and immediately begin our work. We ask questions, examine bodies, pronounce diagnoses and decree treatment plans. Our patients, while they may not admit to it, wonder who we are and what we are planning to do to them. How much better would it be for their sense of comfort, for building rapport, and for developing trust if we were to first introduce ourselves, state our role, and explain what we are there to do?

So, take a moment and let your patient and each person in the room know who you are, what credentials you have, and what you will be doing. It’s one of those things that is simple and quick – and goes a long way toward building the partnership that we want with our patients.

About Helane Fronek

Over the past 28 years I have had a fascinating and fulfilling career in medicine, initially practicing as a general internist and then as a procedural specialist, caring for patients with vein disorders. As Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at UC- San Diego School of Medicine, I’m thrilled to be teaching medical students crucial communication skills along with many other aspects involved in the practice of medicine.
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