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We talk all the time about first impressions. You doctors may never get a chance to make a first impression if your team suffers a misstep with a potential client along the way.

We talk all the time about first impressions. Usually this topic comes up in articles that focus on team training. Or maybe in pieces about your practice's curb appeal. And it's true; you doctors may never get a chance to make a first impression if your team suffers a misstep with a potential client along the way.

Marnette Denell Falley

But once you walk into the exam room, you're front and center. And it turns out there's at least one simple thing you can do to put new clients, in particular, at ease: shake hands.

A recent editorial in The Lancet (July 2007) focused on two studies about patients' attitudes toward greetings. And the results show that most people—61 percent in one survey and 78 percent in another—want the doctor to shake hands. Respondents also preferred that the doctor call him- or herself "Doctor" and that he or she greet other family members who come to the visit.

I thought it was interesting that videotaping showed physicians and patients shaking hands in 83 percent of visits. So, your human health colleagues have got that covered. However, in 50 percent of the initial encounters, physicians never used the patient's name. (Interested in videotaping? See this story to learn how this tool can improve exam room communication.)

Using your clients' and patients' names seems like another easy way to make them feel comfortable with you and reinforce your relationship. And I know that many of you work hard to learn names and give clients and patients a personal greeting. In fact, we've shared a tip this month about an exercise one practice uses to help team members remember key clients. See this story.

Of course, clients are all different. You may see some people who make it clear that they don't want to shake hands. And in their recommendations, the authors of the second study suggested that physicians watch patients' body language for these signs.

But in general, the study results suggest that a handshake and the use of your client's first and last name will start your conversations about pet health off right. Of course, when the patient isn't the person, you've got another greeting to manage. But in some ways it seems easier to get on the same page with that fuzzy, four-legged visitor.

Marnette Denell Falley, Editor

P.S. I have to take just one more minute to share some exciting news: Veterinary Economics took top honors for our June 2006 supplement on hospital design, "Build Your Dream Hospital," winning a prestigious national Gold award from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. You can see the articles from that award-winning piece online at

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