Addressing Patient Questions about Other Physicians' Plans

August 5, 2013

I don't mind when patients call for issues related to what I see them for. I have no time, however, for issues better addressed by their other physicians.

Patients often have questions about medical issues that are beyond my area of expertise. I appreciate that they think I am this font of endless knowledge, but I’m not, and just waiting for them to get the question out and then trying to explain why I don’t have an answer takes precious time.

"My doctor thinks I should get this test done because last week x, y, and z happened. What do you think? Do you think it will be covered by my insurance?"

"My other doctor wants me to get this surgery, how long is the recovery time?"

It is even more time consuming when these questions occur outside of an appointment. I’ll get the message, "Mrs. Smith wants to talk to you. She has questions about her medications."  So after playing phone tag for a few hours, it turns out her other doctor wants to start her on a new medication (unrelated to what I see her for) and she wants to know if there is an alternative. Well, isn’t that a question for the doctor who prescribed it? Another message, "Mr. Jones said he needs to talk to you about his back pain. I told him to speak to his primary-care physician but he wants to talk to you."

There was an article I read not too long ago about how much time physicians spend on the phone - with pharmacies, insurance companies, and patients. I could see more patients in my office if I didn’t have to carve out time to make all these phone calls. I try my best to stave off calls by explaining things to patients in the office and by giving them patient education materials. I understand that there will always be questions, emergencies, and the need for telephone calls, and I really don’t mind when the reason for the call is directly related to what I see the patient for, but I have neither the time nor inclination to discuss issues that are not.