“With new technologies such as cell phones and e-mail in common use, it is important to determine how they can be best used and how they should be integrated into the flow of clinical practice,” the researchers concluded.
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Explore This IssueNovember 2013
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Another study, in 2005, assessed the way patients use physicians’ cell phone numbers once they have them.3 Calls to a secretary, surgical scheduler, and a surgeon’s cell phone number were recorded. Researchers found that 20 of 32 consecutive patients made 65 calls over two months. Only 12 of the calls, or 18%, were to the surgeon. And half of those 12 calls were considered “urgent” in nature, as opposed to 14% of the calls to the secretary and 15% of the calls to the scheduler.
A subsequent survey found that 85% would call the surgeon, and 30% would prefer the surgeon as the first line of communication, with e-mail and home phone communication less desirable. Seventy-two percent said they thought having cell-phone access suggested their surgeon was more caring.
“Patients desired to communicate directly with surgeons, but act with restraint and call as a last resort for mostly urgent issues if given the physician’s cellular telephone number,” researchers wrote. “The cellular telephone has promising benefits for the patient–physician relationship.”
Your Experience May Vary
Anecdotally, the experiences vary for physicians who’ve given out their cell phone numbers.
In a published essay, Winthrop Dillaway, MD, who was then assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey, said he grew comfortable with giving out his cell number because of positive experiences, and gave out the number to patients three or four times a day.4
“Intuitively, physicians do not want to give out their personal phone numbers to patients,” he wrote. “We expect that too many patients would be intrusive and inappropriate. I find the opposite; only once or twice a month do I get after-hours phone calls on my cell phone. Only one patient, one time, blatantly abused this privilege. Otherwise, these calls have always been appropriate.
“I have found that it decreases my stress to know that my sick and worried patients can easily reach me if needed,” he continued. For physicians who would like to try it, he suggested trying it with one or two patients, then gradually increasing that number or abandoning it if it doesn’t work.