I use telephone calls with patients like a stethoscope. They are great for checking in, finding out what’s going on and informing care. For connecting with patients, they beat office visits, email and even texting hands down. Don’t believe me? Read on.
After the initial office visit, I typically communicate with patients by a series of short, meaty telephone calls until we get the problem solved. Some are used to review results, others to answer questions or review possible procedures and others still are far more open ended and, I dare say, therapeutic.
I Couldn’t Find Parking
The “telephone visit” fits in well with my philosophy about taking great care of men. Connect with them on their terms, and where they work and play. Keep it patient-centered and that means home- or office-based. Don’t make them leave work in the middle of the day, traipse over a bridge in their car, have them find parking when no parking exists, and only see them for 15 minutes about something that could have been handled over the phone. Be mindful, as their time is as valuable as yours. Remember, even the youngest of your patients might be running a company that could change your life tomorrow.
What’s even more interesting to me about the telephone visit is how well it fits in with being a good, old-fashioned doctor. I can sense things over the phone that can’t be discerned by email or text: the long pause, a particular tone or shifting countenance, the muffled voice of guilt, the laugh of wellness, the energy-filled voice of health or the dryness of melancholia, the sigh of exhaustion. It really is a stethoscope.
Call it a 6th sense if you will, but it can as powerful as having X-ray vision. My theory is that the heightened awareness that is gained through telephone visits comes from turning off all other sensory banks and focusing only on hearing and listening. And believe you me, patients can be pretty frank over the phone, easily shedding that in-office formality! It’s pretty intense, but in a good way.
As a result of checking in with patients by phone, I have changed care paths, altered timelines, switched therapies, prescribed medications, proposed surgery, refused surgery, congratulated some, scolded others (“Why did you get back in that hot tub!!”), and simply listened. Just like I would have in the office.
So maybe what Fran Lebowitz said is true: “The telephone is a good way to talk to people without having to offer them a drink.” Call me backward, call me forward, either way, just call me!