When my patients have questions , I request them not to phone me. I prefer that they e-mail me – and I promise that I will reply within 48 hours. Some of them don't like this , because they feel that email is impersonal . They expect their doctor to be available on the phone; and it’s true that it can be quite reassuring to hear the doctors voice on the phone . However, the fact is that the signal-to-noise ratio of a telephone conversation is extremely poor . For example , if I'm busy doing a consultation . and I then have to answer a phone call from another patient , it disrupts my flow of thought . I am likely to be quite curt in my replies, because I don’t have the time to sit and chat and fulfill social niceties. Also, the patient sitting in front of me is likely to think I am rude, because I have interrupted her consultation. The telephone call is actually an intrusion , and as a result of my tone, the patient may get even more upset after talking to me on the phone , because she may conclude that I am curt , unhelpful and uninterested.
Also, the quality of information which is exchanged in a phone call can never be good . For example, the patient may not communicate her concerns very well ; or I may not remember her exact medical details , as a result of which the advice I give may not be of high quality . While SMS ( texting) is not as disruptive, because of the shorthand it uses, the information content in these messages is often limited .
This is why I tell patients that if they do need to talk to me , rather than do this by a telephone call , it’s far better to do this by email. This way, everything is documented ; and I can check her medical records before giving her advise.
The major benefit of e-mail is that I can copy and paste answers to similar questions which patients have previously asked me ( and after so many years as an IVF specialist, I don’t come across questions which haven’t been asked before !). I can also provide links to websites which have more information , so that patients can go through these and get more depth and context.
Of course, when patients have questions , sometimes they don't just want information - they require a bit of handholding or emotional support . In these situations , an email is not as effective as a telephone call. However, often a phone call is not a good tool either, and if you find that you need to talk to your doctor not because you need information , but because you need a shoulder to cry , then it’s far more sensible to go to the clinic and do this face to face !