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"Do-s and Don't-s of Telephonic Consultation"
July 17, 2012 by Dr. Mandar V. Bichu
   T T

“Doc, it’s my baby – you know her- she is having fever and she vomited just now.”

The doctor, who has been rudely awakened from his deep slumber, sleepily looks at the timepiece. It’s three a.m.! Gathering his wits, he asks, “When did I last see her?”The harried voice at the end replies, “Oh, it was about six months ago.”

By now the doctor is wide awake. The exchange proceeds.

“What’s her age now?”

“I think two – no – three.”

“What’s the temperature?”

“Umm…I haven’t checked it.”

“Have you given her any medicines?”

“No, I mean yes, Doc. Those prescribed by the last doctor don’t seem to be working.” “What food she had at night?”

“Just wait huh, I will ask my wife.” 

So on and so forth!

If you think I am writing a comic piece, you are justified for entertaining such a thought but mind you, this kind of situation is very real and very common. Telephonic medical consultation is something that has been going on since good, old Graham Bell invented telephone and presented a convenient chatterbox to the human race. Everybody has used this kind of medical advice once or more often. As parents and as patients, you have to be aware of the do-s and don’ts of this kind of medical consultation to get the best out of it.

Here are some tips to help you out.

1)      Consult the doctor that you are visiting regularly. There is no sense in asking for a telephonic medical advice if you haven’t followed up with the doctor over a prolonged period because it is unlikely that he would have enough idea of your recent health or worse still he might not remember you at all!

2)      Use the telephonic consultation only after making sure that your doctor is willing to offer such advice. In your first meeting with the doctor at his clinic, ask him about his views on subject – like his willingness, timings of the call and nature of illness necessitating the call.

3)      Use this facility sparingly and only in emergency situations. Telephonic consultation is not to be used for superficial and cosmetic problems like not eating well or a long-standing mole on the skin. “Could it be this or could it be that?” kind of questions are senseless to ask over a telephone.

4)      Be polite. Always initiate the conversation by first apologizing for the disturbance and end the call after expressing the gratitude. If you are wondering why I am harping on such basic manners and courtesies, then don’t. I have seen or rather heard too many patients asking for telephonic advice who adopt an ‘I own you. You are at my beck and call’- kind of an attitude and so have many of my professional colleagues!

5)      Give a brief and accurate description of symptoms, signs and treatment tried at home. Keep all information handy for a quick reference. Take down the advice given by the doctor on a piece of paper. Write down the spellings and doses of medicines carefully and confirm them. Don’t forget to ask about the danger signs to be looked for. Ask his opinion about the possibility of hospitalization or other emergency treatment and where it would be available.

6)      Keep the conversation in such a call to the absolute necessary minimum. If you are calling during the clinic timings, be aware that there might be another patient along with the doctor, who might be hampered during his consultation. Keep off the idle chatter and unnecessary repetition of same points.

7)      For communication, use the language that you are most comfortable with. If the doctor knows your mother-tongue, then use it. English is not the best language to express your medical problems, if you don’t know it well!

8)       Always make it a point to inform the doctor about the progress of patient. Most of the times, after using the telephonic medical advice, one forgets to call back the doctor if the patient recovers. Even if there is deterioration in patient’s condition necessitating hospitalization, make it a point to convey the information at some point.

9)      Never use this facility as a counter-check mechanism. Many tend to cross-check the diagnosis and treatment by one doctor with another. This is unethical to say the least.

10)  “Doctor, the last time my son suffered from the chest infection, you gave him that medicine. Can I use it again? I think he is now having similar problems.” This is one of the commonest calls a doctor gets, (just substitute ‘chest infection’ in the sentence with various other illnesses!). Telling you the general guidelines of management on a telephone, based on a presumptive diagnosis made on the information provided by medically untrained personnel (Read You!) is not going to be accurate and it might even prove dangerous. In most cases, it is always better to get a hands-on, ‘eyes-on’ consultation to get to the root of problem.

11)  Many patients make telephonic consultation a routine habit thinking it as a way to get free medical advice. What can I say about this? I would just say that medical professionals are using their expertise to make their living too. It is morally unfair to ‘use’ that expertise in this mean way just to save some bucks, plus if these guilty parties are trying to fool their way out, then doctors are not dumb not to notice this ruse.

Life is all about ‘Give and take’!      


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Right Parenting.Com is a site dedicated to offer compassionate scientific guidance on various parenting and child-health issues. It is managed by Dr. Mandar V. Bichu, a Sharjah-based paediatrician with the help of experts in various fields.
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