Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer


Posted by Dr. Vollmer on October 7, 2010

     Do I need my land line? Do I need a smartphone? How is our new digital world changing my access to my patients? What are the expectations about my availability? Have they changed with technology that allows instant communication? I have had my office land line for twenty years, same phone number. I have electronic voicemail, which when I started my practice was a new invention. Many of my senior colleagues at that time used answering services. I remember thinking how out of date they were. Now, I think of myself as out of date, as I am still attached to my land line. I am reluctant to switch over to a cell phone for all of my activities. Yet, many of my younger colleagues are doing this and in so doing, a new standard of availability might be evolving in my field. As I think about this, I begin to see how attached I am to the idea that there is a phone in my office; a phone which stays in my office. I feel that the land line creates a clear demarcation between work and leisure. I am also attached to my phone number-a symbol of my professional endeavor. Having said that, I know that it is only a matter of time until I dive into the smartphone world and cut the ties to my land line. The expectation that I will have continuous access to messages is beginning to seem reasonable to me.  I think that it is time to adapt to a new method of information flow. Change is coming,

9 Responses to “310-824-4912”

  1. Melvin Mandel said

    For years, Shirah, I have puzzled about a changing cultural style. About ten years ago, at a wedding dinner party, someone about a decade younger than me, spoke about how when he was off to a vacation trip to Europe, he would now be in reach by cell phone. I asked why he would want to be in reach. He was an attorney, had an office staff, etc. He looked at me as if my question was idiotic.
    This contrasts with our thinking, in a psychological sense, that taking breaks from tension inducing life style is vital to maintain a balanced persona. As in one year many years ago, my wife noted that it took a week of camping ‘to get the lines out of your face.’ So no vacation after that was less than two weeks.
    Or, thinking about the summer breaks of our analytic forebears the whole summer long. That’s not just for narcissistic purposes, it’s to help us be much more effective while we are at work. And I still believe it is a mistake, even a worse mistake these days with multi-tasking in every way you look, not to pay attention to the need for fairly complete breaks from routine.

    • Yes, Mel, I see your point. I have held that position for years now, but lately, I have been thinking that new lines need to be drawn. This is a two way street. If I don’t like it, I can go back. Thanks for your comments.

  2. Anonymous said

    I’m a patient, and I greatly appreciate that you have a landline. That way, if something comes up at, say, 9:00 p.m. that requires me to change or cancel a future appointment, I can call right then and leave a message on your voicemail. I would never call a doctor on a cell phone during off hours to relay a message like that. If you didn’t have a landline, I would have to remember to call during business hours, which I might forget to do.

    I’ve also been guilty of calling a person’s office phone (not yours!) after hours with the intention of leaving a voicemail message instead of having to actually speak to the person, and I definitely appreciate landlines in those circumstances.

    I also appreciate the escalating “emergency” scale of multiple modes of communication. If I have something to say between appointments that doesn’t require your attention but that I might want to share for some reason, I’ll send an email. Something important, but not urgent, would merit a voicemail message on your office phone number. If I had your cell number, I would only contact you by cell phone only in the event of an emergency in which I truly needed to speak to you immediately. Calling someone on a cell phone almost always feels like a more intrusive act (from the caller’s perspective) than leaving a message on a landline. That feeling would not go away if you got rid of your landline. Thus, in some ways, you would be reducing accessibility if you got rid of your landline.

    I am required to use a BlackBerry for my profession and I hate it more than I can possibly express. I have clients who get testy if they don’t get a response within 15 minutes to email messages sent at all hours of day and night and on weekends. Many emails require complex responses. Managing incoming email while simultaneously engaging in other business or leisure activities requires a highly unproductive division of focus. This not only creates an unbelievably high level of stress but also means that there is very little time available to focus completely on a single task. Because of this, I absolutely adore cross-country flights. It feels like the only time I can get anything done!

    That’s one advantage you have as a therapist; I doubt that anyone thinks that you should be checking and responding to emails or texts from one patient while you are in a session with another. The ability to focus on a single patient/client at a time is a true luxury that, believe it or not, is not the norm in other, non-medical professions. In fact, it feels like a luxury to me to be able to ignore my BlackBerry during the therapy hour. (I give myself permission to ignore my BlackBerry because I’ve always assumed that you have a rule that “patients are not allowed to BlackBerry others during the therapy hour”; and that that rule trumps the rule in my profession that I must always be available to my clients. Please do not correct my assumption if that is wrong!)

    • Thanks for your comments. The cell phone would be a new office phone, and as such 24/7 message capacity would still exist. I would decide when to check the messages and when to respond. I see your point though, that if the cell phone was my only access point, I would have to check messages to see if there was an emergency. On the other hand, I could develop a code for people to use if they needed my immediate attention. These are all really important things for me to think about. Change will be slow.

  3. anonymous said

    I forgot to mention that because of serious health problems I have had numerous doctors over the years and you are by far the most responsive and accessible doctor I’ve ever had. Any sense that you are lagging behind on this score is just wrong.

  4. Shelly said

    I agree with Melvin, Shirah. There should be a clear demarkation between professional and private personna and you need to be able to leave the office in the office at some point. You can always call in to your office for messages, you have your beeper for emergencies; this allows you to have a private life as well. To be on call 24/7 is a nervewracking experience–you will not be able to plan your life outside the office since you will always have to consider if you’d be accessible by smartphone.

    Leave work at work, Shirah.

  5. […] 310-824-4912 […]

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