When Shakespeare penned the rhetorical question ‘What’s in a name?’ he seemed to be implying names’ have little value. Well, I disagree with the great bard. A name has great worth. In an earlier blog post Don’t call me mum I shared how, when my baby son was critically ill with sepsis, it was really important to me that the staff caring for him called me by my name.
Recently I have again been thinking about names. You may have heard of the campaign #hellomynameis . It was started by an amazing lady; Kate Granger. Whislt she was terminally ill with cancer and recovering post operatively she was distressed and frustrated that the staff caring for her did not introduce themselves. Kate has said ‘#hellomynameis is the first rung on the ladder to providing truly person-centred, compassionate care’.
I totally agree with Kate but I have noticed that sadly many health and care professionals don’t seem to get how important this is. A NHS organisation local to me has provided it’s staff with ‘#hellomynameis…’ badges.
I was amazed when I over heard staff complaining about the waste of money on badges. They were accusing managers of political correctness and of trying to be trendy and ‘touchy feely’. These comments make me sad, I wonder where so much cynisism has come from. Perhaps it’s due to recent drives for systems of care, standardised operational procedures and pathways? I know some of these things create pressure and take time. I think in some ways tese have led to NHS provision feeling mechanistic. I worry we’re losing our individual human touch. As a physiotherapist, I know, my effectiveness and the outcomes I help patients achieve are dependent, not only on my clinical knowledge and skills but massively on the connections and relationships I am able build.
As Kate said the very first rung of the ladder is introducing ourselves. I would add that a vital second rung is knowing the name of your patient (and their significant others!) Whilst my dad was recieving treatment for cancer we noticed what a huge difference it made when staff called him and my mum by their names. My dad had always been known by his middle name. So, even when staff got his name right and called him John, neither dad or any of the family initially responded. Somestaff remembered he was known as Graham and made the effort to call him Graham. They conveyed; you matter! In these moments dad felt truely cared for and safe. These staff members, in their simple act of calling him by name, created trust.
There is something uniquely personal about our names. In a crowded and noisy room we are able to hear when we become the subject of another’s conversation, as our names are mentioned. Neuroscience studies have demonstrated that when we hear our own name our brains ‘light up’ in an intense and unique way. Scans have also shown even patients in persistant vegitative state show brain activity when their names are called. Our names are important to us.
I have twin boys Isaac and Ethan. It used to really wind me up when friends or teachers would refer to them as ‘the twins’. I found myself often replying, you mean Isaac and Ethan. I wanted them to know they were valued as individuals and were unique. In my opinion language as well as their clothes needed to reflect this (yes I also dressed them differently) We all know our patients are individuals but somehow we can slip into generic language… ‘the man in bed 3’, ‘the lady with kidney cancer, ‘the mum of the cerebral palsy kid’, ‘the fractured femur’. We have to stop this. Our words matter.
I am not a generic physiotherapist, you are not a stock doctor or a standard nurse. We all bring our personhood to our professional practice. We need to engage with out patients and their families as individuals. Lets climb the ladder of person centred, compassionate care. Let’s introduce ourselves by name and go futher by asking ‘What would you like to be called?’
I’ve designed a logo! If a member of my family go into hospital I’d like a card like this by their bedside.
For now I’m doing my best to remember and use my patient’s names, I’m also am reminding my colleagues to do the same.