As a family physician with almost 30 years of practice experience, I read “Why I Give My Cell Phone Number to My Patients” [July/August 2009] with a critical eye. Even though I have had devoted and loyal patients, some still tended to call after-hours for non-critical matters (and there was no issue of severe psychic stress driving the call). The author may have an exceptionally understanding partner. My wife always found after-hours call an unpleasant intrusion into our lives, especially when the calls were non-urgent (a refill, a mild illness that could be addressed in the morning, etc.). After 25 years of solo practice, I finally had enough. I am now in an occupational medicine practice in which I work 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, with no evening or weekend call. I feared the pager enough. I cannot imagine having the same relationship with my cell phone.
Many years ago, I started giving my cell phone number to my obstetrics patients because I live at least 25 minutes from the hospital. It was easier to have the patient call me directly to discuss what was going on than to wait for a nurse to check the patient and call me. I soon realized that the new mothers kept my number on speed dial and used it when they needed quick help with their infants. This was never a problem for me, so I began giving the number to every patient who needed that availability.
I can count on one hand the number of calls that should have waited until morning. I have even answered calls when backpacking with my husband in Northwest Montana. It only takes a couple of minutes for me to resolve or redirect a problem that could take a covering doctor a long time to sort out. The patient is satisfied and usually enjoys the conversation. I have been tempted to list my cell phone number on my answering machine after hours, but so far it has worked to have patients call the emergency department to page me. There are just a handful of patients I am not sure I would want to share my number with. Overall, I would recommend cell phone contact.