GETTING THE DOCTOR ON THE PHONE
Please listen carefully…Our options have not changed.
At the Sheldon Sowell Center for Health, our phones are answered live, 24/7. During office hours our staff answers. The rest of the time your call goes directly to Dr. Sheldon or Dr. Sowell. So there are two things our patients never hear:
If this is a medical emergency, please hang up and dial 911.
Folks, a medical emergency is exactly when you want to speak to your doctor!
Please listen carefully because our options have changed.
Our options never change. You call. We answer.
When we speak to people who are interested in joining our practice, we hear a surprising number of phone-related complaints with their current physician’s office. People are sick of leaving messages and not getting their calls returned.
Since responsiveness to patients’ needs is a defining feature of quality care, we’re always deeply saddened when we hear this. To us, not responding is more than just rude—it’s poor medical care. We encourage our patients to call whenever they have a question or problem. We’ve found that this minimizes anxiety and maximizes the chances of intervening early in the course of an illness.
How serious are we about wanting you to call? We give each patient a wallet card with our office, home, and cell numbers, along with our email addresses.
We do have a phone tree, but it doesn’t work like any phone tree you’ve ever had to navigate—you know, “Press five for prescription refills.” Our phone tree is internal: Our nonclinical staff picks up no later than the second ring. If they can’t do that, our Registered Nurses pick up. And if our nurses are tied up, our doctors step in. While we do have a backup leave-a-message system, it’s exceptionally rare that calls reach it. This is our way of concretely demonstrating that your call is, in fact, very important to us.
Of course, during office hours there are times when our physicians are with patients. That’s when our RNs really shine. You see, unlike the medical assistants most practices rely on, our RNs know our patients—and they know medicine. If you’re calling with a genuine emergency that warrants getting your doctor on the phone pronto, they’ll know it and they won’t hesitate.
Another pet peeve of many of the prospective patients we meet: Primary care offices that close for lunch. Our patients lead busy and productive lives. Lunchtime can be their only opportunity to take a break to call with a question or schedule an appointment, so we’re certainly not going to skip out on them then.
Our medical colleagues are often incredulous that we do things this way, and we understand. In a high-volume practice, the patient and doctor can be virtual strangers, so it’s jarring to get a late-night call from somebody you just don’t know much about. We explain that because our practice consists exclusively of people we know well and genuinely care about, it’s never an imposition to hear from them.
When patients call us after hours, they often apologize. There’s no need! We have happily answered the phones ourselves every night, weekend, and holiday since 1998. We do it because that’s how we would want to be treated ourselves. Caring for patients regardless of the time on the clock isn’t a chore; it’s a privilege.
If we sound like the kind of physicians you’ve been looking for, we’d be happy to get your call.