Woman on the phone and smiling

Phoning It In: How to Communicate Effectively

Phoning It In: How to Communicate Effectively

Good telephone skills are often overlooked but are key to building good rapport with patients.

Physician offices are busy places. It's not uncommon to feel overextended by practice management concerns. It might come as no surprise then, that you might be unintentionally short with patients on the phone.

Good telephone skills are often overlooked but are key to building good rapport with patients. Aside from your exam, the telephone remains one of the most effective communication tools between you, patients, or colleagues. 

Follow these easy tips to ensure you're making a consistently good impression on the telephone:

  • Pick up calls before the third ring. Always answer with a warm greeting. 
  • Smile, it comes across the phone in your tone of voice.
  • Identify yourself: The caller needs to know to whom they are speaking.
  • Always ask how you can help.
  • Practice active listening skills. Be in the moment and attentive to the caller.
  • Repeat back to the caller the reason for his/her call ensuring you have heard them correctly.
  • If you are going to transfer a call, explain the need to transfer and ask permission. Nothing is more frustrating to a caller than having another person pick up the call without having been forewarned. Before you complete the transfer, ask if the caller is okay with leaving a message and being connected to voicemail if the other party is unavailable.
  • Before placing a caller on hold always ask permission to do so.

In the case of abusive callers, diffuse the situation and advise the caller that to be helped he/she must use appropriate language. If the caller continues, tell the caller the call will be terminated.

In the case of sensitive calls or complaints, don't argue, contradict, or interrupt the caller. Thank them for bringing the matter to your attention. Advise the caller that the situation will be looked into immediately. Share with the caller the name of the designated staff person, typically an office manager, who will be calling them and provide a time when that typically might occur. For example: "I understand you are unhappy with ________. I am very sorry this situation upset you. I will share your concerns with our office manager. They will get back to you _______ (by [time and day])."

Remember to document all clinically relevant telephone calls including a time and date. Provide sufficient details in the documentation to ensure that the reader of the entry will have a clear understanding of the reason for the call and how the call was handled.