Time to Turn Off the Cell Phone

Dr. Neil Baum* and Kay Stanley*

You walk into the exam room and begin speaking to a patient about their medical condition. A few seconds later there is the flamboyant ring-tone rendition of a popular rap song followed by the frantic leap for their brief case or purse to silence the cell phones or worse for the patient to take the call while you are left viewing the chart. Have you been there, done that? Of course, we all have. This is an article that will help eliminate this common nuisance that impacts all of our practices.

Just a few years ago 30% of the U.S. population had cell phones. Now nearly 90% of adults have one or more cell phones. The prominent use of cell phones has introduced new challenges for public and business settings of all types, and the office practice is no exception. When a cell phone rings in a medical practice, it can be both agitating and disruptive to patient care. Improper cell phone usage can hinder both patient care and diminish the level of professionalism of your practice. Coworkers and patients alike are often disturbed by the interruptions and the invasion of privacy and quiet as they are forced to overhear the conversations of total strangers. Work flow is often delayed as calls are answered or in the time it takes to conclude a conversation.

Your patient and phones

Patients often receive or make cell phone calls while they are in you reception area or in the exam rooms while waiting for the physician to enter. Although it sounds innocent enough, what may be considered a good use of time by some is disturbing to other patients and your staff who are compelled to overhear another’s conversations. Even the sounds of the incoming calls, with their variety of entertaining tunes and cheery signals, are disruptive and agitating. And when the nurse or the doctor has to wait on the patient to end a call, their productivity is undoubtedly impeded.

We suggest taking the following actions for use of cell phones in your practice:

  1. Place ‘Please keep cell phones off’ signs at your front desk, in your reception area, and in other prominent places where patients can see them. Signage is available at office supply stores or over the Internet. Don’t be afraid to post them. Place signs into picture frames or have them laminated at one of the local copy centers and have them displayed on the magazine tables, the reception counter, and hanging on the wall in every exam room.
  2. For those who do not comply with your signage, ask them to turn off their cell phones while they are in your offices. There’s no need for apology or timidity, just courteously say, “Please turn off your phone while you in the office.” And then remember to say thank you.
  3. Include your cell phone policy in your practice brochure, on your website, and in your welcome to the practice letter to new patients.

Just say ‘no.’ Staff must follow the same rules as the patients.

It’s OK to say ‘no’ to the use of cell phones by your staff. You can probably even remember a time before cell phones when calls were made the old fashioned way–through land lines. Doctors and office managers need not feel guilty by limiting the use of cell phones. Your job is to have a productive work place. You are not depriving your employees by limiting cell access; you are helping them to do their work and to be more productive. You can still make sure that they are accessible for appropriate calls, i.e., emergencies from their families.

Some guidelines for developing a cell phone usage policy for your practice include:

  1. It is reasonable to expect your staff members to limit incoming and outgoing cell phone calls to times when they are on break, at lunch, or out of the office.
  2. Insist that cell phones be burned off or in silent mode during the work day.
  3. You may even want to insist that the phones be place out of sight to minimize distractions.
  4. Even the doctors, who feel they must wear their cell phones at all times, should keep them in silent mode and make every attempt to not permit interruptions whey they are with a patient.
  5. Misuse of cell phones should be subject to appropriate disciplinary measures.
  6. Consider adding cell phone restrictions to your policy and procedure handbook.

And when all else fails-You can take the draconian step used by some college professors who have warned students that if a cell phone rings during class, the offending student will receive a fifty point deduction from their final exam score. We could implement a $50 addition to the office visit! We just need to figure out how to code it!

* Coker Group

Related articles:

  • ‘Please turn off cell phones’ – or it will be done for you
    By Associated Press, Published October 17, 2004
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