Aug 26, 2009

How To Call A Doctor

A question from WarmSocks:

When my family gets sick I assume that we'll get better in a few days. When in doubt, I phone my doctor's office to ask if something is serious enough to be seen. I am always told to bring the kids in that same day. My doctor is very busy, but he work us in when what I'd really like is assurance that it's okay to wait a few more days. Are there guidelines for when to call the doctor or not?

Your body will sometimes do quirky things that don't require a doctor's visit. The tricky part is figuring out what needs a doctor and what doesn't. It's nice to have advice from a medical professional on which symptoms merit an exam. For this you call them on the phone.

Although the telephone was patented in 1876, we doctors still haven't quite figured out how to use the thing in medical care. Talk is cheap, and this can be a very good thing. In fact it's free. Doctors aren't paid one red cent for talking to you on the phone. Unfortunately if Doctor D tells you over the phone it sounds like a viral cold and you get pneumonia lawyers won't take it easy on Doctor D because the advice he gave was free. Extra risks with no pay makes a lot of doctors avoid phone questions like the plague. You call with a question and the receptionist tells you to make an appointment. This sucks because you often pay for care you didn't need.

So if your doc will talk to you on the phone realize this is a really nice service. Doctor's are always nervous about phone advice. You really don't want to be that guy that causes your doc to say "Screw it, no more phone questions! Just make an appointment for everybody who calls."

Tips on Calling Your Doctor:

  • If you feel you simply must be examined don't call and ask. If your doctor saying your symptoms don't warrant a visit will upset you, then just go a head and make your appointment. Patients that get an answer they don't want will either show up angry wanting an appointment anyway or stay home angry. Neither is good.
  • Have a specific question or concern when you call. Doctors have very short phone attention spans. People sometimes call Doctor D with long stories about how Little Johnny never did have a strong stomach. After several minutes of this Doctor D has to stop this very interesting story to figure out what the heck you are calling about.
  • Let your doctor know your expectations. There are a lot of things that might result from a call: reassurance, a prescription, a referral, advice, moving up the date of your appointment, or being asked to come in right away. You probably have expectations of what you think should happen. If you simply call, list your symptoms, and listen to your doctor's response, you often feel frustrated afterward because your doc didn't address your real concern. The best doctor in the world can't read minds. You should politely let the doctor know what you are expecting. Even if your doctor doesn't agree they can respond to your concern.
  • Don't try to solve all your problems over the phone. Remember the phone calls are free, and doc has to keep seeing patients in person to keep the lights on. If you want to discuss your entire medical history or every odd symptom you've had in the last year consider an appointment. Your doc just doesn't have the time to cover all that on the phone.
  • Accept that different patients get different phone care. If Doctor D has known a patient for years he is very familiar with that patient's body and mind. He is much more comfortable treating that person over the phone than somebody he only met once or twice.
  • Acknowledge the uncertain nature of the situation. Medical work involves examining the body. We can't do that over the phone. This makes us less certain. Sometimes that uncertainty (coupled with fear of lawyers) leads us to ask you to come for an expensive checkup when our gut tells us it's really nothing serious. Just saying "I know you can't be certain over the phone, doc, but what is your best guess?" could save you hundreds of dollars.


Anonymous said...

Very helpful. Thank you.

Helen said...

Thanks for this. Extremely helpful! It's a question I've often wondered about.

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