Phone Call Blues

                I was on phone call for the last 24 hours and this has prompted me to post a little bit about doctor-patient phone call etiquette.   First of all, phone call is not to be confused with regular call. Regular call is something your doctor is paid for and they are usually working a scheduled shift. Phone call is where your doctor answers patient’s phone calls, usually through the inadequate screening provided by an answering service. Secondly, phone call is basically a federal mandate. Clinics MUST provide this service if they would like Medicare to reimburse them for work that they have already done. Thirdly, this is generally done on a physician’s personal time while they are trying to sleep or enjoy their family. As one might imagine, most doctors really love phone call.  

                So picture this, in order to receive payment for services already rendered, we must make ourselves available during personal time, for free, to patients to call and ask sometimes random questions. Can you imagine calling your mechanic or hair-dresser at 2 o’clock in the morning for advice regarding your mini-van or your weave? Usually, my phone call is carried out while trying to get a whiny toddler asleep for a nap; dodging sippy-cups as they are hurled at my head because there is no more “Miwk” in them. Sometimes it is in the quiet of night when I am desperately trying to get my 3 month old back to sleep so I can get a quick nap before working the next day.

                That being said, I do not mind phone call if the patients really need me and the calls are legitimate. Here, for your edification is a quick reference of legitimate versus the illegitimate, sometimes ludicrous phone calls I receive:


  1. Chest pain – or better yet, instead of calling me, if this happens, you should probably call 911.
  2. Stroke like symptoms- see number 1.
  3. A question about medications (i.e. I accidently took two of my blood pressure pills instead of one, am I going to die?)
  4. Hemorrhage – by this I mean serious bleeding, not a small abrasion or your regular menses. Better yet, see 1 and 2 above


THINGS THAT PROBABLY DO NOT DESERVE A 1 AM PHONE CALL (But things I have actually received phone calls regarding)*

  1. Refill on regularly scheduled medications because they figured it would be easier to get refills in the wee hours.
  2. Apparently patients only lose their Xanax, hydrocodone, or other controlled substance on weekends or after hours. It is a shocking phenomenon.
  3. Changes in the color or consistency of bowel movements. I don’t need to know in the middle of the night that you haven’t had a bowel movement today. I also do not need to know that it is slightly more green than usual.
  4. Patient lonely, just wants to talk.
  5. Probably the best middle of the night phone call I have ever received, kid you not, was a patient who was concerned that they couldn’t stop yawning (I sincerely had to fight the urge to tell her that I yawned five times while talking to her).


* These lists are in no way meant to be exhaustive and are intended for amusement only and in no way should be construed as any form of actual medical advice.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mary Jane Shellabarger
    May 29, 2014 @ 15:30:46

    I loved to hear my Dr son reply to these kinds of calls. His brother would be rolling in the floor with laughter, trying to think of questions he could ask him.


  2. Sasha
    May 31, 2014 @ 03:41:30

    Oh, your stories are much too entertaining!! You definitely have to keep writing more and make them into a book some day!


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