Doctor-patient cooperation

Another text message from a patient after hours? How to set healthy boundaries without losing empathy and effectiveness of care

20.5.2024

DoctorOne

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A patient comes to you for an appointment. He has just been diagnosed with an ailment that is not treatable in one, two or three postponed visits. You know he or she has many questions and concerns about therapy and possible lifestyle changes. You yourself need feedback from the patient in order to monitor and modify the therapeutic process on an ongoing basis. You realize that changing habits requires the patient's trust in you, cooperation and persistence.

So you decide to give the patient your private phone number to stay in touch on WhatsApp or via SMS and fill in the gaps between appointments. You have dozens of such patients. Any of them can text or call you at any time. The first text message during lunch with the family. Another phone call during a visit with another patient. Patient messages mix with messages from family and friends on your phone.

How do you take care of your patient's sense of security and at the same time not lose your sense of control, agency and healthy boundaries? You are not alone with this. That's the question 80% of doctors in Poland ask themselves, because that's how many are in contact with their patients outside of office visits1.

In this article, we will try to answer them by presenting two paths by which you can restore your healthy boundaries without sacrificing the effectiveness of patient care. 

Track #1 - Separate phone number for contacting patients 

For physicians who manage patients hybrid (in-person and over the phone), the main challenge is maintaining control over communication with patients that occurs at inappropriate times, such as during free time (a problem for more than 60% of physicians) or during a consultation with another patient (experienced by 31% of physicians)1.

Having a separate phone number is an effective way to take care of the hygiene of your work. It will help you avoid mixing private calls with patient messages. In addition, a separate number will allow you to manage your availability for patients. 

How to implement a separate number for contacting patients?  

Step 1 - Create a new phone number  

You can purchase a separate phone with a new SIM card, insert an additional SIM card into your current phone (if it supports two SIM cards at the same time), or install a virtual SIM card (e-SIM) with your new phone number. 

‍Step2 - Update contact information online and on business cards

Make sure that your all professional profiles on the Internet (Google, Practical Medicine, Social Media, website) and on business cards (or other printed materials) have updated information about your new phone number for contacting patients. 

‍Step3 - Turn off notifications and set your hours of availability

By limiting notifications on a new number, you can manage your availability with greater ease so that patient messages don't interfere with your inpatient appointments with other patients or your rest time. Set yourself a 30-minute window during the day in which you respond to patient messages. This way you will also avoid responding to individual messages at different times of the day and getting distracted at work. 

Step 4 - Inform your current patients

Prepare a template for messages to patients in which you inform them of your new phone number. Use the template every time you get a message from a patient to your private number. You can use the ready-made template below: 

Good morning, from now on I am available/available for patients at the new phone number: XXX XXX XXX XXX. I answer messages every day between 5:00 p.m. and 5:45 p.m. Warm greetings.

‍Step5 - Educate your patients .

Involve patients in the decision-making process by educating them on which cases to contact you remotely and which cases are urgent and require a different course of action (e.g., an in-person visit or a visit to the ED). In this way, you will take off the responsibility of being on the phone 24/7. 

‍Step6 - Familiarize yourself with the legal aspects of remote patient contact .

Make sure you know how to follow the law when communicating with patients over the phone. Learn more in the 15-minute webinar Safe Online Communication with Patients.

‍ Path2 - Doctor.One medical communicator

Medical Communicator works similarly to a dedicated patient phone number for your patients, but in addition, it also meets medical and legal requirements and allows doctors to directly bill for remote care in the app. 

You can move all communication with patients from channels such as SMS, WhatsApp, Messenger, email to Medical Messenger in a few steps. 

‍Step1 - Download the free Doctor.One app .

Download the Doctor.One Doctor app and create a doctor account in it (it will take you just 3 minutes). 

Step 2 - Set your availability windows
In the Doctor.One app, you are the one who determines when you want to respond to messages from your patients. Instead of multiple notifications at different times, you get one notification that doesn't surprise you. You don't have on-call or live-chat with a queue of patients. Your patients are reassured because when they write in the chat, they can see when to expect your response at the latest. As a result, you no longer have the pressure to respond to messages immediately

‍Step3 - Transfer patient contacts

Start by transferring the patient contacts you already have stored on your phone. Just select the numbers you want to transfer, and the app will automatically inform your patients about the new communication channel via SMS. 

‍Step4 - Direct new patients directly to the app

If you get a message on your private phone from a patient you don't have saved in your contacts, invite them to further contact you through Doctor.One using your individual link (available in the app). 

At the appointment, instead of giving out your phone number, ask for the patient's number and invite them to contact you at Doctor.One with the touch of a button in the app. 

Regardless of the path you choose, you won't see change overnight. Changing habits as in the therapeutic process of a patient, as in defining a new standard of care, requires your time, persistence and consistency. Although the road is not easy, the benefits you will experience are far greater than the effort invested at the beginning. You'll hear more about this in the stories of doctors who have already walked this path.

Take the first step today

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