A subsequent survey found that 85% of patients would call the surgeon, and 30% would prefer the surgeon as the first line of communication, with e-mail and home phone communication less desirable. Seventy-two percent said they thought having cell phone access suggested their surgeon was more caring.
Explore This IssueJune 2014
“Patients desired to communicate directly with surgeons, but act with restraint and call as a last resort for mostly urgent issues if given the physician’s cellular telephone number,” researchers wrote.
Your Experience May Vary
Anecdotally, experiences vary for physicians who have given out their cell phone numbers.
In a published essay, Winthrop Dillaway, MD, retired assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey, said he grew comfortable with giving out his cell number because of positive experiences and gave patients the number three or four times a day (Fam Pract Manag. 2009;16:24-25).
“Intuitively, physicians do not want to give out their personal phone numbers to patients,” he wrote. “We expect that too many patients would be intrusive and inappropriate. I find the opposite; only once or twice a month do I get after-hours phone calls on my cell phone.”
“I have found that it decreases my stress to know that my sick and worried patients can easily reach me if needed,” he continued. For physicians who would like to try it, he suggested trying it with one or two patients, then gradually increasing that number or abandoning it if it doesn’t work.
In a letter responding to that essay. Jonathan Dreazen, MD, a family medicine physician in Pennsylvania, said he has “devoted and loyal patients,” but they would still call after hours about issues that weren’t critical. His wife, he said, “found after-hours calls an unpleasant intrusion into our lives,” especially when they dealt with non-urgent matters.
Douglas Van Daele, MD, assistant professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine in Iowa City, said his colleagues who give out cell numbers tend to tell patients that they are to use it only for certain questions or issues, and never for emergencies, for which they should always call the on-call or triage personnel.
Dr. Van Daele does not give out his own number. “The general consensus that I have heard is that mobile phone access by patients is much more invasive than other means of communication,” he said. “I agree with that philosophy. It is entirely possible that I would not be in a place or position to fully attend to the patient or their issues if they have such direct access.”