Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Is It Time to Give up on the Phone?

I wrote before that mental health professionals must not rely upon cell phones for handling emergencies. Now I wonder whether we can rely upon them even for routine communication with patients, and I have an idea that other technologies may provide a solution. In just one day, yesterday,
  • after I thought I left a message for a patient who wants to schedule an appointment he called again to say he knew I called but did not get a message,
  • after a patient failed to appear for an appointment I tried to leave a message but an automated voice told me the mailbox was full,
  • when I tried to call a pharmacy to order a prescription for a patient who had just left the office I got a fax handshake: beeeeeeeeeep. I left a message on the patient's relative's voice mail asking for another phone number or some other way to identify the pharmacy, but 12 hours later there was no return call.
Then there's,
  • Aliens abducted my cell phone.
  • I dropped my phone in the toilet.
  • My voice mail got wiped out.
  • They turned off my phone service because I didn't pay the bill.
I have resisted using email to communicate with patients so far, but I believe the time has come for me to stop bucking the trend. Snail mail is too slow. We can't rely on telephones, cell and otherwise. I believe the solution lies in diversity. Sure, there are problems with email. There are also problems with videoconferencing and texting. But if I fall back on one when the other fails, I dramatically increase the likelihood of success. 

Here's an example. Often when attempting a video-conference contact with a patient we have audio problems. First we can use the texting capability of Skype to discuss the problem and arrive at a solution. Then we generally just pick up the phone while using Skype for the video only.

Technological complexity can cause problems, but it can also lead to solutions. Now for the hard part: getting it all set up and rewriting my patient treatment agreement to lay out all the rules. I'll need a new email address that uses the domain of my practice Web, which is on Google sites, which means I'll need a new POP account... Oy.

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