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Explore This IssueNovember 2013
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The desire to make a connection with patients, along with concern about keeping contact with them manageable, creates a certain tension over a staple of modern life: the ubiquitous cell phone. Should physicians call patients with it, and should patients be allowed to call it?
With many rheumatologists and other physicians using cell phones as a matter of course throughout the day, physicians sometimes give out their cell phone numbers to patients, despite concerns about privacy.
Others are not as inclined to do so.
Protecting Private Digits
Christopher Collins, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Georgetown University and a rheumatologist at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, both in Washington, D.C., says rheumatologists in academic settings are probably less likely to use their cell phones as much as those in a private practice setting. He has fellows who do most of the first-line interaction with patients, he says.
He usually does not use his cell phone to call patients, much less give them the number.
“I, personally, very rarely will phone a patient with my cell phone because, outside of work, my cell phone is my personal device,” Dr. Collins says. “When I can, especially if it’s during working hours, I will try to do most talking to patients on a land line.”
Should physicians want to make a call to a patient on a cell phone but want to keep the number private, it’s as simple as hitting *67 before dialing, or, under the phone’s settings, turning “Show Caller ID” to off, or something similar.
A 2011 study out of Israel, in which 120 primary care physicians were surveyed, found that they preferred to answer their cell phones only during the daytime and at predetermined times of day. With e-mail, though, they would respond to messages during most hours of the day, even holidays and weekends, the survey found. Researchers also found that older physicians were more prepared to provide cell phone numbers than younger ones.1
Do Patients Want to Call?
The same group, in a separate study in 2012, interviewed 200 patients, and found that they preferred having their physician’s cell phone number more than their e-mail address.2 Slightly more than 46% of patients says they would be “very interested” in obtaining the cell phone number, while only about 15% of those with e-mail addresses says they would be very interested in getting their physician’s e-mail address.