Is it "friendly" for the doctor's office staff to call you by your first name?

Another trip to the doctor. Another day of having your women about half my age blithely ask if “Pamela” is ready. Another day of my explaining, actually very gently, that the right way to address someone you have not been introduced to–ESPECIALLY someone older than yourself–is as “Mr./Mrs./Smith.”

And here’s the answer: “The new “patient privacy” rules require us to protect your privacy. So we are ordered to call you by your first name. Now, can I have your insurance card, hon?”

How do the rest of you Dopers feel? When receptionists and nurses call you by your first name (or “sweetie” or “hon”) does it make you feel like they are your friends?

Or does it make you feel that they are being impertinent, disrespectful, and condescending?

It’s hard enough to get the medical profession to treat you like an adult ANYWAY; you may have the right to a full explanation of diagnosis and proposed treatment, but my experience is you have to actively pursue questions like: Are there alternatives? How serious are these risks? Can you quantify them? What happens if we don’t do anything? Not to mention the really idiotic medical tech instructions: “Drink forty (yes, 40!) ounces of water in the hour before you show up, and hold it in your bladder.” If there’s a woman in the world who can do that, she should be in a circus sideshow.

I’d be a little wierded out if everyone walked around calling me “Ms. Sven”. It’d make me feel like a grade school teacher. I like my first name, and I don’t see any problem with using it.

I can’t remember the last time I called anyone by their last name, or had anyone call me by my last name (except telemarketers). My proffessors and bosses certainly don’t expect it. As far as the doctor’s office, it makes extra sense for them to use first names in a medical setting. I’d rather them call out “Even” to the waiting room of the abortion clinic than “Ms. Sven”.

It doesn’t bother me, but often straangers enough address me by my first name which sounds odd as I’ve always gone by my middle name.

My doctor’s staff calls me Mr. Ringo-last-name. I address my doctor by his first name.

Same church, different pew -

When I started doing legal secretarial work, I was highly offended when an attorney would leave something IN MY CHAIR! First of all, I would usually sit on it before realizing it was there, but most of all, I found it offensive that the attorney thought I wouldn’t see it if he put it on my desk instead. It was like being told “hey, stupid, do this next.” I’ve since learned that most attorney’s desks look like London after the blitz and putting things in their chairs is the only surefire way of making sure they’ll find it. Most attorneys insist that important documents/mail be place in their chairs (the fastest way to get fired is to put something important in the “IN” box). I still don’t like it, but I understand it.

In your case, your sense of propriety is being offended. If your name is Pamela Smith and you are being called “Pamela” instead of “Mrs. Smith,” try not to take offense - the privacy thing may have its (legal) merits. If you are being called “Pam” or “Pammy” or any other diminuitive of your first name - or outside your name, like “Sweetie” or “Hon,” correct the person politely, but firmly.

My two main doctors called me Mr. Pheles for quite a while, though they and their nurses eventually got around to calling me Mephisto more times than not. Of course I sometimes call one of my docs by her first name, too. Over the years these two and their staff have helped me quit smoking, discussed my excrement with me, saved my wife’s life, helped bring my daughter into the world, found me cheap medicine, assisted me in battling an insurance company, and examined my testicles . . . all that plus time has in our case somewhat eroded the barriers of formality. Also, we’re a little more laid back here in rural nowhere, anyhow.

Still, I see your point, AuntPam. I think you deserve the respect you want, and I think it’s very impolite for your medical care providers to address you in a manner inconsistent with your desires (unless you insist on being called Queen Pamela, Holy Dominatrix of the Multiverse or something :slight_smile: ).

Occassionally it rubs me wrong when people I don’t know speak to me with too much familiarity. It does seem inappropriate at times . . . like when you’re waiting to find out if you have cancer or if your loved one is in the next room covered in blood. Still, I remind myself that different people see things differently and I try to give them the benefit of the doubt, even when I’m irritated.

Finally, I can relate to your being frustrated with the medical community. It does seem like they should be there for us and it often seems that they are not. Still, there’s some really great doctors and nurses out there. If you’re dissatisfied with the care you’re getting now you should, if you’re able, look for somebody new.

All IMHO, of course. Good luck!

Huh? The new “privacy rules” require it? They need to reread their HIPAA regulations. Saying “Mrs. Jones, whose social security number is 999-00-2222, we’re ready for you now” or saying “Debbie, who’s got diarrhea, the doctor will see you now” are HIPAA violations, but the mere instance of uttering a name is not. You can’t conduct business without calling people by their names. Next time they tell you that, I would have them ask their compliance officer to show you that regulation.

I was brought up to believe that the words Mr./Mrs./Miss (and even Ms) were honorifics and a courtesy to be encouraged. I often use Mr. (etc) when speaking to co-workers, employees and bosses. But I don’t really mind if someone calls me by my first name and usually encourage that too. (“Please, call me Khadaji”)
Still, I think it would be nice to return to the use of the honorific until people given permission to be more friendly.

I don’t mind, but mainly because I have an unusual last name that can be difficult for people to pronounce if they’re seeing it for the first time. It’s far easier for them and me to go ahead and call me by my first name.

Privacy laws have gotten pretty twonky* but this could be overkill by the medical office. Maybe the fact that you’re even seeing a doctor is legally confidential but that seems like a stretch. If it is that confidential I’d think a simple number system would protect them better, though it might be smack of a deli counter. ("36! 36!! Okay, 37!")

FWIW, I usually err on the side of formality but grant a little extra leeway for medical folks, rightly or wrongly. They really do walk a tough line. Let’s face it, normal social boundaries get blown to hell. Caring, even in rote forms, can come across as condescension. As the patient, I’m thinking, “Oh, no, not the dreaded paper gown!”, the mere symbolic precursor, of course, for godawful indignities yet to come. Factor in fright, worry, etc. just to make things fun. As med pros, they’re probably thinking, well, all the routine things neccessary to do their jobs well, without many real clues about the actual personality in front of them. How the poor schmuck in the paper gown gathers dignity, comfort, support is probably a crap shoot.

I’m not disagreeing w/ you, Pam. The casual first-naming can be…jarring. I do suspect there’s a better way for at least channeling us physical animals into the chutes.


It doesn’t bother me to be called by my first name, but I’m 26. What I REALLY hate is being called “Miss ( last name).” If you MUST use a title, please use Ms. Miss makes me feel about eight years old. Evem when I lived in Georgia where “Miss (first name)” is a title of respect, too. It always bugged me when people introduced me to their kids as “Miss (first name).”

I had problems with “sweetie” and such when I moved here, until I realized that it wasn’t just me getting it – EVERYBODY does. Cashiers twenty years younger than my mom will call her “hon.” I really think it’s just people trying to be nice. I haven’t had anybody do that condescendingly to me yet. And to be honest, were I going in for a scary medical procedure, I wouldn’t mind at all if the staff called me “sweetie” or “hon” – better than “Miss (last name)!”

I forgot to add, that medical staff in particular should address you as you want to be addressed. I’d insist that they call you by the title of your choice. I mean, really, if they don’t use your first name, how in the world would that violate any privacy regs?

It doesn’t bother me at all. Of course, I mostly deal with nurse-practicioners who also go by their first names. The exchange tends to be something like “Hi, burundi, I’m Beth.”

The only people who call me Ms. LastName are the students I work with.

Privacy laws???
Nope doesn’t fly.
What about a common name like “Mark”. It is not inconceivable that there will be 2 Marks in the waiting area at the same time, so Mark Fanelli and Mark Jones will still have to be differentiated somehow.

My doctors office calls out the patient’s full name like that.
Joe Bloggs
Samantha Anywoman
etc etc

However, if you have specifically requested that they address you in a certain manner, your wishes should be respected.

One of the things i HATED when i worked in a nursing home, was that i was supposed to call the residents by there first names, and it felt disrespectful for me to do so without their permission.

I agree with the posters who think the office is going overboard. I work for a medical center and have completed my HIPAA training, and at no time was something like “call them by their first name only” mentioned. I also always address patients by “Mr./Mrs./Ms./Dr. (Surname)”.

I would be worried that an office using only first names would risk mixing patients up - “But it was John Jones who was supposed to be checked for prostate cancer; that’s John Smith in the exam room.”

every time i’ve been to a doc (and that’s LOTS of times due to multiple health probs) they use my full name to call me…i would assume they use both first and last name to save confussion if there are two “elizabeth’s” in the waiting room etc…

i should add that i’m in australia

Personally, I don’t care what they call me as long as they don’t leave me sitting there for hours on end. I think it’s far more rude to have a 1:00 appointment and be called back at 1:30 or 1:45 than to call me by my first name. Show some respect for my time.

(And yes, I realize that at times there are emergencies and the good doc is delayed. That is understandable. Please explain that to me when I check in so I don’t sit around and stew all afternoon.)

Personally, I don’t ever want anyone to call me Mr. Batty, no matter how old or young they are. Mostly because it isn’t my real last name, but still …

Even if it were, I’d much rather be called by my first name, which isn’t really Jack either. To tell the truth, I don’t even want to be called by my first name because everybody knows me by my middle name. There is the remote possibility that you’re following me here.

Another reason I hate being referred to by my last name is that while it isn’t that difficult to pronounce, it is constantly being mangled. But it’s pretty hard to screw up “Mike.”

When I introduce my kids to my friends, I say, “This is Bob, this is Pete, this is Horatio, this is Alouicious,” or whatever.

For my money, referring to people as Mr. or Mrs. So-and-So is one of the dumber traditions. These people are people, they have names, I fail to see the inherrent disrespect by referring to them as such.

Consider this, though. Most medical-practice receptionists don’t know who you are by face. They have a chart in front of them with a name, and unless they open the chart for the gender, nothing else. (I’ve heard it suggested that if the receptionist opens the chart, it is a HIPAA violation, because the receptionist has no “need to know” the contents. Don’t flame me, though; this was a few years ago, before the regs were more firmly set.) Also consider the fact that there are some names that are unisexual. “Mark” and “Mary” might be clear, but if there is a female “Chris” out there, she may take umbrage to being called “Mr. Jones”. As I have a unisex first name, I can see where they’re coming from.

That said, however, there is no reason to keep a conscientious receptionist from making a note on the cover of the chart that indicates how the patient wishes to be addressed.


In a nursing home? Did nobody stop and think that in the generation those people were raised in, you didn’t call anybody by their first name without being asked to do so? Idiots.

I’ve never minded medical personnel calling me by my first name, but mine is one where there are unlikely to be multiple people with the same first name in the room. I’ve only known 2 other people with my first name in my life.

I do see using my last name as a greater public disclosure of private information than just my first name. How is anyone going to find out anythng about me just using my first name? And even if there are multiple Jennifers or whatever in the office at the same time, I’d sure hope that a) the doctor will know which one is which unless they are both first-time patients or something; and b) if the doctor is having any substantive interaction with a patient, he/she will look at the chart and discuss the issue at hand! One would hope any relevant distinctions would arise by then.

I’ve never had a problem with medical professionals not treating me like an adult. I don’t consider the use of my first name to fall into that category; I feel weird when people call me Ms. Luna, or even worse, Mrs. Luna (I’ve never been married, and this is just inaccurate). If I felt my doc weren’t taking me seriously, I’d be looking for a new one so fast it would make your head spin.