Telephone tips for physicians and staff

Communication has moved online, going virtual through secure messages and emails. However, the growth of telehealth during the pandemic has also increased the amount of telephone communication that physicians, their staff, and their patients now conduct. When speaking with patients over the phone, it is important to keep some tips in mind for physicians and staff to be able to communicate effectively and appropriately.

Avoid distractions when on the phone. It is so tempting, especially in a busy practice, to try to multitask during a call. However, it can also pose potential issues if you are the physician listening to a patient describe symptoms and you are distracted by reading email or by having a separate conversation with someone in the office.

Develop a protocol for incoming calls. Will the person answering the phone always take a message and pass it along to you as the physician or are there circumstances under which the call should be immediately transferred to a member of the clinical staff? A standard, pleasant greeting should also be developed and shared throughout the office for anyone answering the phone in your practice.

Provide up-to-date COVID information to all staff. Your patients may call in with questions about the virus, the vaccine, and about what they should or should not do during the pandemic. Verify current information with the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) so your team can accurately answer your patients’ questions.

Speak clearly and slowly. Even for patients without hearing challenges, phone conversations can sometimes sound garbled or muffled. When speaking with a patient, emphasize your words so that they will be understood through the phone line just as they would be in your office. Use layman’s terms and ask frequently if the patient has any questions, to ensure they have not misunderstood or misinterpreted your words.

Return calls promptly. If your patient has had to leave a message and is concerned about a health condition or needs instructions clarified, time is of the essence for them. They are probably anxious or concerned and waiting for you to call them back will only exacerbate their situation. Set aside time during the day for returning calls or have someone in your office let the patient know when to reasonably expect a call from you, to lessen their worry.

Researchers have found that the manner in which calls are addressed can affect health outcomes and patient satisfaction. The provider or an appropriate member of the clinical staff needs to address the patient’s issues, whether a simple request or urgent post-operative complaints, in a timely manner.Take your time with each patient call. Your patient needs to feel as though he or she is the sole focus of your attention during the call. When you sound rushed or try to end the call before the patients’ questions are thoroughly answered, it can also affect the health outcome for that patient as well as the patient’s perspective on your practice as a whole. Listen to the patient’s concerns and address them in as much detail as necessary to ensure the patient understands the situation, and your instructions or advice.