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Doctors urged to make good first impression

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Doctors should know that when meeting a new patient for the first time there is no second chance to make a good first impression, researchers said on Monday.

Surgeon Dr. Maurice Nahabedian talks with cancer patient Deborah Charles and her husband Todd during a medical appointment at Georgetown university Hospital in Washington May 29, 2007. Doctors should know that when meeting a new patient for the first time there is no second chance to make a good first impression, researchers said on Monday. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

Almost all patients want to be greeted by name when seeing a doctor for the first time and want to shake hands, a survey of patients found. But while handshakes are common, doctors often never utter the patient’s name, the researchers said.

“Greetings are just a small slice of the visit, but they can have a lasting impact,” study leader Gregory Makoul of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine said in a telephone interview.

“It’s the first impression that can really set the tone for the rest of the encounter and for the doctor-patient relationship.”

Not only that -- manners can prevent mistakes.

“It’s not only a feel-good exercise,” said Dr. Sheldon Horowitz of the American Board of Medical Specialties, whose 24 member boards certify U.S. physicians.

“There is some correlation between good communication between the physician and patient and actually good outcomes in patient care.”

The researchers surveyed 415 U.S. adults in 2004 and 2005 on their preferences and expectations for initial greetings by doctors. They also looked at videotapes of 123 new patient visits with 19 doctors in Chicago and Burlington, Vermont, to see what these doctors were doing in such settings.

Seventy-eight percent of patients surveyed wanted a doctor to shake their hands, while 18 percent did not. In the taped sessions, doctors and patients shook hands 83 percent of the time.

In half the videotaped visits, the doctor never mentioned the patient’s first or last name. In 39 percent of sessions neither the patient nor the doctor mentioned the patient’s name, according to the Archives of Internal Medicine study.

Makoul said it is important for a doctor to, at the very least, ensure he or she is seeing the right patient. A leading cause of medical mistakes is doctors mixing up patients and their treatments, studies show.

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