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October 10, 1990

Physicians Need Better Line on How, When to Respond to Patients via Telephone

JAMA. 1990;264(14):1797-1798. doi:10.1001/jama.1990.03450140017006

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FOR MANY patients, reaching out and touching their physicians by telephone is a convenience. For many physicians, telephone calls are at best a bother and at worst a liability.

But they are also a fact of life for many clinicians. It has been estimated that pediatricians, for example, spend 27% of practice time on the phone.

Some expertise in handling phone calls would therefore be useful, and it may become necessary as concern has been raised about potential medicolegal liability arising from advice given over the telephone.

Dealing with patients by telephone clearly is not the same as seeing them. Obviously, a physician cannot perform a physical examination or do laboratory tests.

Peter Curtis, MD, professor of family medicine at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, points out a number of other differences. For example, "there's a smaller number of problems that present than the general scattering of primary