Remembering ‘Whatshisname’ When Treating Recurring Patients

Lynn Homisak PRT

Has this ever happened to you? You run into one of your patients outside the office and of course when you see him, you know who he is but his name temporarily escapes you.

As he walks up to greet you, he confidently says, “Hello, Dr. Smith!” Although your brain goes into overdrive trying to search for a more personal response, the best you can do is, “Well, hi there … nice to see you.”

How about in your office? Have you ever wondered if you could remember your patient’s name on the other side of the door if her file were not conveniently available to remind you? Patients love it when we can remember their names. It makes them feel special. So what can we do to positively prompt our memories? Maybe these easy tricks can help.

1. When you are first introduced to someone, avoid distractions and focus on the introduction. That means actually listening to and paying attention to the person’s name when she says it, and not on what is concurrently going on around you.

2. Once you hear it, repeat the name as often as possible, especially when you are first introduced to the person. Repetition is your memory’s best friend. “Welcome to our practice, Jay.” “How long have you had that pain in your left foot, Jay?” The more your say the patient’s name, the easier it will be to remember.

3. Writing down the name once, maybe twice, will also help cement the name in your mind.

4. Mnemonics is a memory tool that relies on association and it really works. Is there something in particular about that person’s name that you can link to something? For example, perhaps the diamond on Lucy’s finger made you think of the Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”?

5. How about rhyming? Saying “1-2-3 … Nice to meet you, Lee” could be challenging for all you would-be poets out there.

6. Why can you remember that ROY G. BIV stands for all the colors of the rainbow? Again, because you can make a connection with each letter to each color. The same can work when you associate the letters in your patient’s name. For example, Lynn might stand for Love Your New Name.

7. A picture is worth a thousand words. Maybe it will help you remember Mrs. Dorothy Whitestone by drawing a mental image of Dorothy (from The Wizard of Oz) walking on the beach picking up all the white stones. It’s fun trying to link a picture to their names and create your own image. When you see Mrs. Whitestone again, the connection will allow that same image to reappear.

8. If you know someone else by that same name, try to imagine the two of them standing together in front of you. George Black, meet Uncle George. They will forever be associated with each other in your mind.

So there will be no more “whatsherface” or “whatshisname” for you. From now on, remembering your patient’s names will be as simple as remembering your own name, right? Um … I’m sorry, what did you say your name was again?


I have always been terrible at remembering names. Switching to EMR has made it worse. Now that I don't have to write anything, there are two things I almost never know: the patient's name and what date it is!

Good tips here. Thanks.


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