Article Date: 8/1/2002

lessons learned
Old What's His Name
Everyone's a somebody. Here's why it's important to treat them that way.
Jack Runninger, O.D.

Do you feel sometimes in this modern world that you've become a number rather than a person? We don't seem to be identified by name anymore, but instead by social security number, Tax ID number, bank account number, credit card account number and by health insurance policy number.

The late Sam Levenson said we may soon be identified on our tombstones as such:

Here Lies 017 53946 5029
Hatched 1940
Matched 1965
Dispatched 2010

Come to think of it, it might be helpful if everyone did become a specific number, which could then be stenciled on our foreheads. It would eliminate the need to remember names, which has always been a problem for me. And you're probably not much better.


It gets worse

Unfortunately, you'll find that difficulty with names gets worse as you get older. Here's a story that illustrates this worsening problem:

An elderly man at a nursing home became smitten with one of the lady residents. He finally got up enough nerve one evening to ask her to marry him. The next morning, he couldn't remember if she had said yes or no.

"I must apologize for my terrible memory," he phoned her, "but I can't remember if you said yes or no when I asked you to marry me."

"Oh, I said yes!!!! And I meant it sincerely and with all my heart!" she replied. "As a matter of fact, I'm glad you called. I'd forgotten who it was that asked me."

They aren't robots

As people increasingly become identified by number, it's even more important that you instead treat patients as persons.

My wife recently phoned a dermatologist. She had to press phone buttons five times to make an appointment. And then every phase of her exam involved computerized identification. Undoubtedly a much more efficient system, but she came out of the experience feeling like a robot rather than a person.

You and your staff need to treat patients with respect when addressing them. I recently went to the funeral for Mrs. Nita Read and it reminded me of something she told me years ago when she was about 75. She said, "It really irks me when young receptionists, nurses and doctors call me by my first name! It appears they think I'm an idiot in my second childhood."

Your own name

How you identify yourself is also important, because it can conjure a mental image to prospective patients. For example, people get an entirely different image of someone named Reginald Van Snootingham, than they do for one named Hiram Snagglewart.

I was named William John for my two grandfathers, but then my parents decided to call me Jack, as a nickname for John. When I first started practice at a young and innocent age, I figured I needed to sound older, dignified, and like a big shot. I listed my name in the phone book, on stationery, etc. as W.J. Runninger, O.D.

"People will remember and visualize you better if you identify yourself by name rather than initials," a wise friend convinced me.

Someone once gave me a jacket with the initials "WJR" on it. I tried to convince folks that it stood for "Wonderful Jack Runninger," but my granddaughters spoiled this illusion by deciding it instead stood for "Weird Jack Runninger."



Optometric Management, Issue: August 2002