The Last Word: Phone Numbers

By Miss Sherina Balaratnam / 25 Apr 2022

Miss Sherina Balaratnam evaluates whether practitioners should give their personal phone numbers out to patients

It’s a weekend, the sun is shining, and you’re finally enjoying some stress-free quality time with your family after a busy week in-clinic. Then, the phone rings – an unknown number. You answer…

“Do you have any availability for a filler appointment on the 24th?” chirps the voice on the other side of the phone. Suddenly, you’re brought right back down to earth.

Patients contacting you in your personal time – I’m sure we’ve all been there at some stage in our career. I know I have! When you give your private phone number to patients, it happens – people think they can access you at all hours, at all times. While this is hard to deal with and some people may opt out of it, we do also have a duty of care to always ensure our patients have a point of contact should they need us. So, what do we do?

The pros

The General Medical Council (GMC) outlines that one of the duties of being a doctor is to make the care of your patient the first concern.1 As healthcare professionals, aesthetic practitioners have the same responsibility to look after our patients, and I believe that this duty of care includes ensuring our patients always have a phone number they can contact. This means that we are able to provide our patients with access to information, aftercare, and to someone who can help, particularly if a patient experiences a delayed complication. It is also a source of comfort for the patient, knowing that they do have someone they can rely on and they are not being abandoned by us once treatment ends.

The cons

The problems come when a patient abuses the relationship and the point of contact, and they take advantage of your trust. For the practitioner, there is the risk of having your private lives invaded and losing a work-life balance by giving patients too much access. For example, I’ve had people call my personal phone during my free time as they think it’s the quickest way to book an appointment. As a treating clinician, you don’t want to be used as a call handler or a booking service.

Currently I do not give my personal number out to patients, and I think if I did it would actually be doing them a disservice. This is because I wouldn’t actually be able to get back to them in a good amount of time due to my busy work schedule. It’s no use to my patient if I’m unable to reply to them until I finish at 9pm!

The solution

I believe that the most important thing is always ensuring that the patient has a point of contact should they be experiencing an emergency or have an urgent question. The duty of care we have to our patients must remain the priority. However, a personal phone number doesn’t necessarily have to be the way to do this. As a clinic owner I utilise my team. I enlist their help to ensure that there is always someone available to pick up the phone between 8am and 9pm every day of the week. This way people know they can reach the clinic at any time throughout the day, which helps to instill their confidence in you. I also ensure that every patient receives a routine follow-up call from a member of my team after their treatment.

However, I appreciate not everyone has the capacity for this, in which case I would recommend seeking the help of call handling support companies such as Aesthetic Response or MoneyPenny. These services mean there will still be someone who can answer the patient, and provide them with information or take care of admin. Of course, if the issue is serious, they should be directed towards the treating clinician for help immediately.

If you do choose to hand out your private phone number to patients, or are unable to do either of the above, I believe you should always make it clear during the consultation stage what the boundaries are, and in what circumstances the patient is able to call you. Make it clear that they should only be calling that number if they are experiencing an emergency/abnormal side effects, and then state clearly what constitutes those – explain what a vascular occlusion is and what the main indicators would be, and have this written down so they can refer back to it later. This will help to cut down the volume of calls, and make patients aware that you are not responsible for bookings or general enquiries.

Provide a point of contact

Whatever phone number you give, the important thing is that they have a point of contact that can be reached in the event of a complication. If you are uncomfortable giving your number out then considering options such as a call handling service can be extremely beneficial for both parties. All in all, the most important thing is establishing a relationship of trust and respect and adhering to your regulators guidelines for patient care.

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