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Dear Health Plan: Please Know My Name

I received a survey from my health plan this week. It looks as though it will take me about 10-15 minutes to complete and mail back to the corporate office.

Usually, I am happy to complete surveys for my health plan, and I will probably do this one because I like my doctor and am happy to rate her and her team as outstanding. But what irritates me is that the business letter introducing the survey begins like this:

Dear Ms. Gaertnerjohnsto,

My last name is not Gaertnerjohnsto. It's Gaertner-Johnston.

We all know the problem is the computer software. But does the software have to rule our lives? Is there no human being who could have checked the letter and perhaps crossed out the silly rendering of my name and written it in correctly? The initiative and personal touch would have warmed my heart.

If you know the answer to this question, please comment: Must I forever be Lynn Gaertnerjohnsto when my health plan writes to me?  

Syntax Training

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

7 comments on “Dear Health Plan: Please Know My Name”

  • Good Morning Lynn Gaertner-Johnston!

    I worked over 30 years in the health care industry for insurance carriers, brokers and consultants. Part of my past life included the role of Project Manager for claims & customer service audits of health plans.

    Since I paid claims before God invented computers, I was dismayed when I came across computers taking over the human thought process.

    One story that I love is where the human did not let the computer get in the way. A claim was denied correctly by the computer because the services were before the person had insurance. The human claims processor could not understand why it did not issue a payment so she just changed the date the insurance was effective. LOL!! Just thought I’d show you the flip side of the coin. 🙂

    But I couldn’t agree with you more! Good customer service doesn’t let a computer replace the human brain. The other thing I found, however, is changing a computer-generated problem moves even slower than Congress!

  • Why not to write them a request hand letter for correction of your last name!

    It’ll definitely get their attention.

  • Cathy, thanks for sharing the other side of the story. You got me smiling! I believe you are, unfortunately, right about the slowness with which change comes to computer systems.

    Waqas Ali, good suggestion!


  • Having lived with an 11-letter last name for 27 years of my life, I am familiar with having everything “official” address to Ms. Brommelsie rather than Ms. Brommelsiek. It was humbling to add a box to my SAT ScanTron in high school so I could have my K appear…

  • Hi, Kim. I prefer your first choice, which is always correct.

    Your second choice is increasingly being used. I have not adjusted to it yet, although other people obviously have.


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