Every Patient Has a Name. Use It!
Doctor: "Nurse, the diabetic patient in room 8 is waiting for his insulin shot."
Nurse: "What diabetic patient? Bed 1 or 2?"
Doctor: "Umm...the bed by the window. I'm blanking on the name right now. John? No, Tom. I think. To be honest, I'm not quite sure. Check the chart. He is the cellulitis patient who is been here for 2 weeks."
Patients come to us seeking care for their various medical conditions or symptoms. However, we must not forget that our patients are not merely a collection of their symptoms and medical diagnoses. Behind each patient, there is a person with feelings and emotions (and a name). Their identity should not be based entirely on their diagnosis or chief complaint.
When talking about patients, we should refrain from referring to them as diabetics, schizophrenics, demented or disabled. Instead, we should refer to them as patients with diabetes, schizophrenia, dementia or a disability. Or even better - we can use their actual name.
This blog entry was inspired by John. He was a patient with advanced dementia whom I cared for during my last rotation in hospital medicine. My initial questions to him were met with silence. That is, until I used his name. His name was his identity.
It has been said that "The sweetest music to anyone's ear is the sound of their own name." It's a simple gesture and a sign of respect for the patient. Suddenly, our relationship with our patients can become more personal. I challenge you to use your patients' names more than you would otherwise. Notice the effect it has. I'd love to hear about your experiences.
(Special thanks to my professor, Dr. Alexander, for providing me with her insights about this topic.)