Communication with patients


Flight nurse, ground paramedic
Obviously I know how to treat a person decently and with respect. But EMT/patient communication seems more delicate, because the patient has to be comfortable enough to share sensitive medical information. It's a new dynamic for me.

They just emphasize communication so much in class, so now I'm worried about it, when I was never worried about it before! I suppose I should just trust my instincts.

Anyone have any experiences where the patient felt uncomfortable by the way you addressed them?

Don't overthink the way they tell you to do things in class when it comes down to communication: the goal is to be respectful and gain the patient's trust. That will come with time and practice, but there is no reason that you have to treat a patient encounter any different than a regular encounter with a person besides a different level of professionalism and a different level of assessment. What I mean is this: pretend that when you are talking to a patient, you are talking to someone you just met in "regular" life: introduce yourself, ask their name, ask them how it's going, etc.. Don't bombard them with a list of questions, but instead try to work the questions into a conversation. There will, of course, be times when you have to ask question after question, but try to limit that or at the very least make it so it's not rapid-fire or hasty. Regardless of what people might tell you, the VAST majority of the time in this job you have time to get information.

As far as what to call people once you have been introduced, a safe bet is usually Mr./Mrs. ____. However, be smart about it! If you're talking to a teenager, first names are fine. Same goes for kids. For some of my adolescent patients I'll call them "man" if it's appropriate as I'm close to their age. Other times, I'll call people of varying ages "my friend." Friendly chatter and respect helps the patient relax, and that is the goal! Just remember, though, that everything is dependent on the situation; for example, sometimes calling someone "my friend" isn't appropriate in the moment or with that particular patient. There is no one name rule for every situation.

Keep in mind as well that confidence goes a long way in gaining someone's trust. That and respect are HUGE.

Sometimes you'll call people by a name that you think is respectful, and they'll get offended. Just apologize and ask what they want to be called! Patient's will also call you things that you may not like. For example, with myself a lot of my patient's will call me "sir." They're trying to be respectful, but I don't like it so I'll correct them (nicely) and tell them they can call me _____. Letting the patient know what they should call you is just as important as them letting you know. Remember, the patient-provider relationship is a 2-way street (being careful of course about giving out too much info!).

Sorry for the long post!


Still crazy but elsewhere
Got me remembering about kids.
Speaking as an elderly male:

About age nine or so I start calling girls "Miss" and age twelve "Ma'am". I'm often told by the "tweeners" and" teeners" to use their first name, but it seems to set a good tone. I ask the little ones for their first name after offering my last name and title.

Boys? First name until about 15, then "Sir" or "Mr", and later "may I call you…".

Maybe it makes me more comfortable as well, but also it elaborates through cultural subscript that I respect them and am not going to force them to do things. I may have to later and will apologize, but we scare kids and others by initially bulling in.


Forum Captain
I usually start with first names for children or teens, sir or ma'am for adults. I work in customer service, and that has served me well in every job so far. I do tend to leave off the sir/ma'am, but still do my best to be respectful, if I am dealing with an obvious transvestite, or if I am unsure of the person's gender. I have had a few customers take offense when I used the wrong gender.

I haven't encountered transvestites on any calls yet, but I'm sure in that case I would just ask them how they would like to be called.


Community Leader
I'll often start out with Sir/Ma'am with anyone older than me. I cringe at "dear". I try to learn my patients names and use them.