Phone Tag

(This is an old post, recovered from my blog crash. I just now found it, but you may have already read it . If so, sorry.)

On any given day, the black chart rack on my desk behind the phone is stacked full of charts waiting for call backs from patients.

Here’s how it goes – They call me, but I’m in a room with a patient. I get the message. I call back. All I get is their voice mail. (This happens even if I call back a scant 15 minutes later.) I leave a message, put the chart in the rack.

Sometimes when I call back, my patient’s secretary, used to playing the wall, gives me the “She’s in a meeting ” line. Can she call me back? Or a family member answers and tells me the patient is in the shower (or sleeping or busy). Can I call back? Or the patient has a call on the other line. Can I hold?

No, I can’t. I’m busy, I’m important, I’m the doctor!

What ever happened to the waiting for the doctor to call back thing? I remember as a kid, my mom would call our family doc because one of us had a sore throat, or the chicken pox or God knows what else. She’d leave a message.

And at that point, the entire family would go into Doctor-Call-Back Alert. My mom didn’t leave the house. No one moved. No one breathed. If the phone rang, and and it wasn’t the doctor, my Mom would shout “Get off the phone! I’m waiting for the doctor to call back!” And he always did. But our lives went on hold till it happened.

Now they put me on hold.

Category: Second Opinions

Schruggling :March 18, 2006
Just a quick St. Patrick’s day observation…why aren’t your file folders green? Red? This isn’t the Russian High Holy Day after all…

You may not be able to get through to your patients right away, but I am sure that when they get your message, they not only feel bad to have missed you, but probably hit themselves in the head with their palm, and yell “doh!” like Homer Simpson.

If it makes you feel any better about how busy the world has gotten, I am an average Joe in a sales job trying to do the best I can. I am not an executive. Yet, I find that I cannot take one day off without consequences. Here it is nearly 1 AM, and I just retrieved the 19, (let’s say that out loud, and together) again, 19 messages that I got today. And when I call these people back, I will, without fail, get at least 15 voice mail services…ugh. As an up note, I think I may steal your organizational system with the file folders behind the phone. My system is just a scrap paprer with notes all over the place. No where near as meaty and impressive.

shuna fish lydon:March 18, 2006
wow when can I make You my doctor? at kaiser we cannot even get through directly without secret permission. but a new doctor gave me his email address the other day. this I find amusing and intriguing!

TBTAM :March 18, 2006
shuna: Use that email, its a gift. Though I must say I am not a big fan of the whole email thing. For quick simple questions, it’s fine. But I like to hear the tone in a patient’s voice, and the phone allows for much more back and forth QA than email does. That said, I get and answer about 8 patient emails a week.

I feel you pain… Those red charts (whose patient identifies I easily smudged away using the smudge tool on my photo software, thank you very much) and my system are going bye-bye very soon, as we are going to an online medical record. Prepare for massive whining when that happens. For someone as organized as I am, to have to throw it all away for someone else’s system, even an online one, well, ask OBS what that would feel like…

Tara’s World: March 18, 2006
Im the same way as your mother was, If I leave the house the Dr will call when im out, SO I dont leave. But in a quirky twist of fate when I dont leave he wont call until 6pm or later

BigMamaDoc:March 18, 2006
I, too, play phone tag all day with patients (usually the same 20-40 patients every day). Every time I try to return a call, I document it in EMR (takes only a second). My absolute favorite thing is when the patient reports me to the Patient Services Cop, who calls me to the carpet to discuss my bad call return habits. I love to show up with my printout of my 15 attempts in 4 hours to get back to pt. Ha! I WIN!

Janae:March 21, 2006
I try to stay around the house when I’m expecting a call from my pediatrician, but sometimes it doesn’t work that way. If I know when I’m going to be gone at a certain time, I let him know when I leave my message. I also let him know when the best time is to call back just in case he’s available at that time. It’s works for us because I can only think of one time when I’ve missed his call. –

7 Responses to Phone Tag

  1. I’d say you need to wake up and smell the messages…this culture isn’t like when you (or I) grew up. Doctors are important but so is a patient’s time (and patients for that matter – without patients you would not have a busy practice). Kudos to you for being prompt about returning patients messages but many, many, many other physicians are not. Since that behavior is the norm, it could be that your patients do not expect it.


    Don’t take me too seriously – this was a whining post, meant more as a poke and a laugh at myself than anything else. Sometimes a girl’s just gotta’ complain…

  3. In this day of cell-phones and call-forwarding, there is no excuse for missing a Doc's return call! I forward my land-line to my cellphone when I'm away from the land-line. Even in a meeting, I kNOW if it's my doc calling (caller-id) and can slip out to answer right away. As an advanced practice RN who retired to be a consultant, I KNOW how time must be managed in a doc's office. Thumb's up to you for your organization system!!

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