Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

A Psychiatrist’s Assistant?

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on September 5, 2011



  I thought for a moment, then I thought a bit longer, and I decided to hire a temporary assistant to help me with phone calls, emails, and faxes. Of course, I briefed them on the essential tenet of confidentiality, although I was still concerned about keeping the privacy of my practice. At first, I felt relief. My assistant was prompt, responsible and reliable. He wrote down every detail: no complaints there. Yet,  suddenly, I realized that I missed out on important clinical information. I was no longer hearing the tone of the person who left a message. I was no longer hearing how the person worded their request. Instead, I got a very concise, distilled, version of what they were trying to communicate. Oh, not another trade-off, I said to myself. Yet, indeed it is. Not only does an assistant give greater threat to confidentiality, it also takes away all the little clues I receive from retrieving my own messages and scheduling my own appointments. I have always valued the personal aspect of my practice. I have my own office. I, most of the time, am the only one who listens to my voicemail. The responsibility is welcomed, given the closeness that gives me to my work. In my twenty-one years of private practice, I have always known that. Given my recent experiment, I know it now in a deeper way.

2 Responses to “A Psychiatrist’s Assistant?”

  1. Shelly said

    Hiring your assistant should also give your patients peace of mind knowing that you are available to them even when you are at seminars or conferences out of town. They realize that you listen to your own messages when you are in town, but if you are in a lecture, you can be contacted even in the middle by your assistant–so you are attentive to their needs 24/7. Of course, you are free to listen to your own messages whenever you feel like it. The choice is yours.

    • I am not so sure. Availability is a relative term. Clearly, the more urgent a person views his/her situation, the more they feel they need immediate responsiveness. Further, with today’s technology, there is an expectation of immediacy. Balance this with the need for privacy and personal contact, making it such that both the physician and the patient can experience disappointment and resentment, if expectations are not met. As usual, it is a narrow path. Some of my psychiatric colleagues have wonderful assistants that help patients quite a bit. Knowing that, given my style, I think that an assistant would create an undesirable layer to my practice. Having said that, there may come a time, when I will have to rely on an assistant to help me be responsive and attentive. As usual, the equation has to do with the practicalities of life on the one hand, and the desire to provide personal service on the other.

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