Mobile phone use makes for easy access, practically anytime and anywhere.
Telephone consultations are a handy alternative to face-to-face appointments and are particularly useful if the patient is housebound, working full-time or has transport difficulties.
The downside to communicating with patients over the phone is that non-verbal cues are hard to pick up on and obviously physical examinations are not possible.
- Accurate documentation
There may be a temptation to take short cuts and be brief when consulting by telephone, but detailed accurate documentation is essential.
- Ensure confidentiality
Ensure the identity of the patient is established straight away.
Try to speak to the patient directly, rather than a third party. Third party consultations pose their own difficulties.
- Have a structure
The structure of the telephone consultation should include systematic data gathering and agreeing a management plan.
- Safety netting
Safety netting should be a set of specific instructions for the patient including what to look out for and what to do in an emergency.
- Have some training
Using telephone consultations effectively may not come naturally to all doctors. Training for consulting over the phone is important as face-to-face consultation skills are not entirely transferable.
- Practice makes perfect
Some practices record telephone consultations which can be retrieved and listened to again.
- Dr Kay Snowdon is a GP registrar in Northumbria.