Friday, October 15, 2010
Why I prefer email as compared to a phone conversation with patients
We treat patients from all over the world and many of them want to do a phone consultation with me before coming to our clinic for an IVF treatment.
I can understand why they want to do so - after all, going half way across the world to get treated by a doctor you've never seen or met is a major leap of faith - and talking to the doctor can help to reduce some of this anxiety !
While it's true that the human touch is very important in providing good medical care, the truth is that it's not humanly possible for me to do so. This is true for many reasons.
For one, because of time zone differences, it's quite difficult to find a time slot which suits both the patient and me. We often end up playing phone tag - causing even more frustration ! Also, phone connections in certain countries ( such as Africa) are not of good quality, so that it's hard to hear each other. Also, sometimes patients forget some of their questions ( not all of them are well organised enough to prepare a list of their questions) , which means they often need to call twice or thrice ! Also, sometimes they do not understand what I am saying , because I may use a medical term they are not familiar with and it can be hard to explain everything in detail on a phone call . Another problem is that the husband calls me ; and after I finish answering his queries , his wife calls in another 5 minutes for additional clarifications, because he could not explain to her what I told him ! And when I am busy seeing patients in the clinic , it's hard for me to spend time on the phone . This means that my phone conversations are often short , which gives patients the wrong idea that I am curt or rude !
However, my major argument against a phone consultation is that it is not a very efficient means of communication ! There is no documentation , and too much scope for confusion and errors. This is why I prefer email, where everything is written down. I can answer as many questions as the patient has - and the patient can share this information with friends or family members who are doctors or nurses , to make sure I am providing sensible advise. They can also cc their spouse, to make sure everyone is on the same page. Because we can store and refer later on to this email conversation trail, there is no scope for ambiguity; and no confusion about medications or their dosages .
It's also much easier for me to answer more complex questions in case more clarity is needed, because the patient can ask for more details in his reply, in case he does not understand something I have said. Moreover, the advise I can provide by email is far more sophisticated and reliable as compared to a phone call, because I can think carefully before sending the email ! Email also allows the patient to send me all their medical records, so I have all the medical details I need to provide intelligent answers , customised to the patient's medical history !
A major benefit with email is that I can provide links to the relevant pages on our website, so they can get even more detailed information about their specific problem. While some patients email is much more impersonal than a phone call, I believe email is much more efficient, when used intelligently !
This is why I request patients who want to talk to me to send me their medical details by filling in the free second opinion form instead, so I can guide them properly. Some get upset with me because I refuse to talk to them on the phone - while others understand that I am doing so in