Should doctors give their cellphone numbers to their patients?

in Gadgets/Medicine/Physician by

In the few years I have been into practice, giving mobile contact number to a certain set of patients improved doctor-patient interactions and reduced overheads in the clinic.  In several provinces here in the Philippines where landlines are nonexistent,  the advent of mobile phones and SMS technologies provided easier and faster communication between physicians and their patients. Those that live in places away from their physician’s clinic reported a reduction in their  unnecessary clinic visits and ER consults. The perceived overall health care cost reduction (especially with the SMS technology ) is felt not only by patients but also by physicians who find it easier to decongest their very busy clinic schedules.

On the other hand, some doctors has had a bad experience after giving their mobile number to some patients. Abuse of this privilege is related to the patients’ proper education on its use and limitations. Some patients avoid regular clinic visits and rely only on the mobile phone calls or sms messages to communicate with their physicians. Some patients even “shortcuts” and seek immediate attention even if their cases seem to be less emergent than other patients who are physically present in the clinic. The most common complaint among physicians is the total disregard of some patients for the doctor’s private life. It’s not uncommon for physicians to receive non emergent calls or sms messages even on unholy hours.

A reduction in clinic visits (as a result of this mobile phone communication between physicians and patients) necessarily reflect a reduced clinic income if you are based on a service for fee system . Nobody (not even insurance companies) pays the doctor for any of the phone consults that patients incur. It’s all for the sake of better patient management and reduction of health care cost.

But education is very crucial in engaging patients into this type of doctor-patient interaction. Reciprocating respect for the doctor’s or the patient personal private life is of paramount importance in such mode of communication. Put into proper use,  giving  your mobile contact number to patients  reduce the over all health care cost. It’s misuse however,  could end up a fruitful patient-doctor relationship.

So, should  you give your mobile numbers to your patients?Why or why not? Or if you are a patient, would you want your physician ‘s mobile number?Leave your comments here.

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Dr. Remo-tito Aguilar co-founded #HealthXPh. A board certified orthopedic surgeon, he is previously Chief of Clinics at St. Louis Hospital in Tacurong City and a consultant in Orthopedics at the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City. Dr. Aguilar is a healthcare social media evangelist and writes his medical musings at The Cast & Curious (www.remomd.com).

23 Comments

  1. (Permissions: Following comments were posted on my FB note for this post, so I'm putting it here also)Jill Reynolds: Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. What set of patients did you give your mobile number to? Perhaps the doctors with harrowing experiences did not set rules to sms consults, or they were dealing with a diff set of patients (medical instead of surgical?). But it's easy how bad things can come out of this good intention.Anyway I would answer no, for privacy issues. 🙂 But maybe I dont count bec I'm a radiologist.

  2. (Permissions: Following comments were posted on my FB note for this post, so I'm putting it here also)Arlien Alcoseba: jill, your answer is a typical radio answer: you don't want to be woken up in the early mornings!!! lol.

  3. Archie Agahan: in my case, i give it also to my patients. although I don't get any calls in the middle of the night for consults

  4. @Jill, yup in some cases, it might be "specialist" field related. @Arlien, yeah, I think every MD prefer not to be awaken early in the morning, but in my field and location, I got no one else to answer calls…

  5. @Archie, (Jokes) siguro dahil bihira ang optha emergency o di talaga sila makakita sa gabi!lol.I envy your field…Kaya ako napapamura pag ang bwakanang smart mag send alerts hatinggabi..I have to wake up and check if it is a hospital call..

  6. i gave my mobile numbers too but if they start to ask for tx or mag litanya na about their ssx. i wont reply na kay dili ta kasingil ug PF alangan pud ug magpa- pasaload ko. hehehehhe!fr: dr tes

  7. Hi, very nice blog i like it very much. But I think, its a thinkable topic and will good for the both patients as well as doctors also. They can communicate very easily. Yet, it can be harmful for the doctors anybody else can miss use it. So, we all should think about it, that how can we reduce the risk from it.!!!!

  8. i know a doctor who got sued by her patient because she wasn't answering his texts (because the doc was driving). This privilege can get abused and seen by the patient as an obligation by the doctor 24/7.

  9. @grace, pretty extreme for a patient to sue his doctor just because he/cant text back. I'm not aware of any laws obliging doctors to reply to any txt messages alone. Failure to respond to an emergency call without valid reason maybe…

  10. More often than not, we have to give our numbers to our OPD patients…but it is our responsibility to tell them beforehand that unless it was an emergency, we won't be able to get back to them as quickly.

    Most of the time, it's mostly to schedule appointments..they usually appreciate the "face time" in the OPD more than the texting/calling. (I'm hoping i can keep it that way, though.)

  11. i think it's alright to give ur number to patients who need ur out most continuity care but then u still need to scrutinize n screen them. Who knows that patient or any of his/her care giver is mentally sick. They need another md for that.

  12. if both parties are comfortable with this arrangement i don’t see why not?  i’ve gotten numbers of my physician friends — communicate with them when necessity calls but i always keep in mind the privacy issue and honor that by not sharing their numbers with anyone.

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