A registrar survival guide... telephone consultations

With an ever increasing demand for appointments, the usefulness of telephone consultations cannot be underestimated by Dr Kay Snowdon.

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.

Essentials checklist
  • A structured consultation
  • Plenty of practice and training
  • Detailed records of the consultation
  • A confidential approach.


  • Dr Kay Snowdon is a GP registrar in Northumbria.

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