Dec 9, 2014

“Hello, my name is…..”, the simple phrase that can transform health care

As a patient, Kate Granger knows what it is like to be treated by doctors she doesn’t know and who don’t introduce themselves to her before delivering care.  As a doctor, she also knows how the simple things – like introductions – can easily get lost in the fast-paced, high-tech and high pressure world of modern health care systems.    These twin perspectives motivated her to start the social media campaign #hellomynameis which is influencing health care providers worldwide to introduce themselves to patients as the first step in delivering care.  “It seems like such a simple thing,” Granger says “but knowing the name of the doctor who is treating you can transform the experience of care, I firmly believe it is not just about knowing someone's name, but it runs much deeper. It is about making a human connection, beginning a therapeutic relationship and building trust. In my mind it is the first rung on the ladder to providing compassionate care.”  The following piece by Anne Cahill Lambert, AM reflects on her experiences in trying to obtain the names of her health care providers in hospital and the need for this campaign in the Australian health care system. She writes:    The ‘Hello my name is’ campaign being run by Dr Kate Granger in the United Kingdom will hopefully hit Australia soon.  By way of background, Kate is a youngish medical registrar who has cancer.  Her prognosis is not good.  Her blog muses about why all health care professionals don’t introduce themselves when approaching patients.  After all, she claims, it is drummed into everyone during training.  I have had more than my fair share of interaction with the health system with a chronic, and supposedly terminal, illness as well as a carer for my elderly mum.  Not mentioning, of course, my more than 30 years working as a health services manager.  I recently spent a fortnight in hospital and was stunned about a range of practices, including the routine courtesies of self-introduction. On one occasion in the ICU, two people were discussing my progress at the foot of my bed.  They had not introduced themselves and had not bothered to involve me in the conversation.  I surmised that one person was a nurse as she had a blue shirt on (no, I don’t know why I thought that either).  The other person had an opened neck shirt on with casual trousers:  looking, for all the world, as if he was at a picnic.  I asked both of them who they were, trying to get them to involve me in the conversation about me.  I was right.  The nurse identified herself as the nurse looking after me for the shift.  No name, apparently.  The other person told me his first name.  They both disappeared.  He came back a bit later and I asked him what he did.  Oh, he was my intensivist for the day.  Since my discharge, I have discovered from logging into my eHealth record that he charged Medicare and my private health insurance a total of $1,313.15 for my care.  I really should have had some involvement for this amount of money, including a conversation about what he was doing! I started working in public hospitals in Victoria in 1981.  On day one, I was given an identification badge with my name and department.  I was instructed to wear it at all times, so that people knew my name and department.  Every staff member was required to wear a nametag while on duty. Since then, I have noticed that these obvious nametags that we wore on our chests have been replaced with security tags, providing staff with access to different parts of the hospital.  Staff tend to wear them on their belts, or pockets, or somewhere lower down than their chest.  Often the backs of the tags are showing and not the actual part of the tag with the name of the person. Patients, therefore, have absolutely no hope of knowing who the clinician is unless they introduce themselves.  As an aside, patients do have good grounding in the various codes used in hospitals, as these are clearly shown on the back of most security tags! While in hospital recently, I tried every trick in the book (and some not in the book) to obtain the names of the people caring for me.  On one occasion, a graduate nurse (you know, the nurses just out of university) was caring for me.  I thought she’d be on top of things, so I waited.  And waited.  And waited.  At midday, I said to her that she had been looking after me for five hours, yet I still didn’t know her name.  She proceeded to write it on the whiteboard in my room.  I felt well put back in my box. Why do I want to know the name of staff?  Well, they know my name.  They know my mum’s name.  Why wouldn’t I be polite and call them by their name; even if they have been a tad overly familiar with my mum by using her first name without asking if that is ok? Importantly, it places the power balance on an even footing.  You know the concept:  equal partnership in the health care setting.  The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care has just issued a new set of standards around partnering with consumers.  The key recognition here is that genuine partnerships are essential: ‘Effective partnerships with patients and consumers are necessary for safe and high-quality care in a sustainable health system.’  (p.2) I suggest that it is impossible to establish effective and genuine partnerships unless you know who you are dealing with. I am not asking for private details of my health care professionals.  I’m just asking for their first name, especially if they call me by my first name. The fabulous Professor Imogen Mitchell from The Canberra Hospital and Australian National University is a keen supporter of the Hello, My Name Is initiative here in the nation’s capital.  Let’s hope it can be rolled out to all public and private hospitals reasonably quickly. Unless, of course, we can expect common sense to prevail in the interim: courtesy could dictate the good manners that our parents taught us, viz., to be polite and introduce yourself.  And then wash your hands, but that’s a topic for another day.   Anne Cahill Lambert, AM, has much to say on a range of matters including consumer participation.  She has a Bachelor’s degree in health management and a masters in public administration.  She’s on twitter:  @ACLambert

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2 thoughts on ““Hello, my name is…..”, the simple phrase that can transform health care

  1. Anne Cahill Lambert

    Sonia, how gorgeous. Thanks!

    I have been a great proponent of the concept of “nothing about me without me” as well – it is really hard to get clinicians to just copy the patient into the correspondence. Or, perhaps, get the letter sent to the patient with a copy to the referring GP and other clinicians involved in care. I will certainly join in and am very grateful to you for all you are doing!

    With best wishes; Anne.

  2. Sonia Fullerton

    Hi Anne,
    Thanks for writing about this! I am a senior doctor in a public hospital in Melbourne and #hellomynameis was my pledge for Change Day 2014.
    I wear a clear, white name badge which says my “Dr Sonia Surname, Senior Doctor” and is easy to read. Patients and family members often ask me about it and comment that it’s so hard to know who is who in the complex hospital environment.
    I have been involved in getting the clear white name badges introduced into my hospital and have also plugged it in other hospitals, as I wear it every day and talk about it often.
    My Change Day pledge for 2015 is #lettertome – I will write outpatient letters to the PATIENT and not to the referring doctor. Cool, huh?
    Come and join us at and join #hellomynameis in Australia and introduce yourselves freely and often!
    #hellomynameis Sonia

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