Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Should I Answer My Phone?

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on February 1, 2011

                     “I got to tell you doc, you are the only psychiatrist I know who answers their phone,” Zoe, twenty-nine, tells me with gratitude and surprise when she called me to change an appointment. Of course, I know many of my colleagues answer their phone, but at the same time, I was struck by her comment. Clearly, I don’t answer my phone when I am in session, but if I am doing paperwork and the phone rings, I answer it. That sounds simple enough, but over the years, I realize the complication. I am between patients. I answer the phone. If the matter will take more than a few minutes, I either stay on the phone and keep a patient waiting, or I tell the person on the phone I will call them back. If I am going to do that latter, then I do not need to answer my phone, since I will call them back anyway. Still, it might be reassuring to the caller to hear me reassure them I will get back to them, and not hoping that I got the message and wondering when I will get to it. So, I pick up my phone and many times, I am met with surprise in the caller, as if their brain is prepared to leave a message using a particular tone of voice, and  likewise, their brain is unprepared to talk to me directly using a different tone.  In those situations, I almost wonder if it is better to allow people their expectations of voicemail, rather than stressing them with a live person. The next question is what do I say when I answer the phone? Some of my colleagues answer their phone by saying their name. “Dr. Schwartz,” one colleague says, as if just in case you are calling another doctor, you might want to know that you have the wrong number. I tend to answer by saying “hello” as that is comfortable for me, although I have never asked a patient how it feels to them to be on the phone with me in that first encounter. Twenty years of practice-there is a lot of things I have yet to explore.

2 Responses to “Should I Answer My Phone?”

  1. Shelly said

    What if it’s a first-time caller wanting to make an appointment with you? Seeing how accessible you are would make an excellent first impression. There’s nothing worse than leaving a message with a physician then waiting the whole day for him/her to get back to you and worrying if you missed the call (if you had to run out to the market or something). Accessibility is a good thing.

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