Back in the day, I remember my former program director/chairman at Rhode Island Hospital, Dr. John Cronan, lecturing on the basics of the business of radiology. (if you’re reading this, I bet you’re impressed that I remember!) He mentioned the three A’s of maintaining a good radiology practice: affability, availability, and acumen. And, after all these years, I still take this to heart. Good phone etiquette also fits into the equation of the three A’s. It is one of the keys to maintaining a quality practice to entice repeat customers, fellow referring physicians, and patients.
And the rules apply not just for standing phones at your practice but also for cell phones too (We are not living in the 1980s, folks!) With the tens of thousands of phone calls, you will receive over your lifetime, the concepts behind good phone etiquette remain the same. So, let’s go through each of these threads to guide you on how to approach the phone.
Let’s address the most controversial area first. How can we be available by phone most of the time when I create a post such as Should Radiologists Ignore the Phone? Well, it creates a conflict of interest. We do need to make sure that we concentrate on our films first and avoid errors. On the other hand, it does not mean that we should ignore the phone. So, how do we solve this dichotomy? If you are not actively reading films, always pick up the phone. And, if you cannot pick up the phone now, at least you can promptly return messages that you may receive from the secretary or your voicemails.
If a clinician can never get through to you, you know where their business will go- down the street to the other guy! So, allowing your clinician to contact you is of the utmost importance.
Affability implies more than picking up the phone and being friendly. It also means an air of professionalism. What do I mean by that? If you are picking up a phone in a particular location, let your caller know they have reached that specific destination. So, if you are in CT scan, you may say Your Hospital, CT scan, Dr. X speaking.
Like us, clinicians run short on time, and we must respect their demands. They may arrive on your line through an operator, unsure of their destination. Taking the time to announce exactly where and who you will go a long way to establishing a rapport between you and the referrer.
In addition, treat your referring physicians on the phone as if they were a friend, not just another burden of the day. Even if it is 4:55 PM and you are about to leave the department, don’t be curt on the phone. Our referrers are the lifeblood of a radiology practice, so creating a relationship between the radiologist and the clinician is crucial. In the end, we need to develop friendships, or else why should the clinician refer patients to you instead of his friendly radiologist down the street? (We live in competitive times!)
Finally, just as you treat any consult, on-phone or in-person, we need to ensure that we do our best to solve our referrers’ questions. Be direct. Make sure to answer any questions that you can answer correctly off-the-cuff. And, if you don’t know the answer at the moment, you can always look up the information and get back to the clinician. It is our responsibility to help our fellow doctors. That is just part of our job.
It is also awe-inspiring when you can give a source or a paper to your referring physician documenting why you think your recommendation is correct. It goes a long way to show that you keep up with all the literature. Additionally, it makes it more likely your referrer will return the next time.
Final Thoughts About Phone Etiquette
Many radiologists may dismiss phone etiquette as an extraneous part of our practice that is not worth their time. But, I beg to differ. Instead, it is an essential part of an excellent radiology practice. It is how we connect with our referrers, make friends with our fellow physicians, and direct our clinicians to the next step, whether ordering the appropriate test or solving a diagnostic dilemma. So, make sure to follow the rules of the phone!