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How Mental Health Clinicians Can Reduce “Inappropriate” Phone Calls

It is important to patients to be able to reach their clinician on the phone between appointments and they appreciate that. We must continue to be available to our patients on the phone for urgent things that cannot wait for the next appointment or that are otherwise appropriate for being dealt with on the phone.Those phone calls are not the subject of this post.

Rather, there are also certain other kinds of phone calls that are not appropriate. These phone calls can be time consuming for mental health clinicians. Here are some suggestions to make such inappropriate phone calls more manageable:

1. Be clear with patients about the role of phone calls in the treatment relationship. Some clinicians will say something like, “Call me if you have any questions.” Rather, it may be better to say, “If you have any questions, write them down so that we can discuss them next time. If there is something urgent that cannot wait till our next session, please call me.”

2. If a patient calls with a routine question that is more appropriate for discussion during a scheduled office visit rather than on the phone (e.g., “The Zoloft has not been helpful; what should I do?”), schedule an appointment do go over this rather than trying to conduct a mini-session over the phone

3. For patients who come at fixed, regular intervals (e.g., every week or every two weeks), consider giving them a fixed day and time, e.g, every Thursday at 10 am. Then if the patient has to cancel for any reason, the next appointment is already set up. Of course, this would not work if the patient needs to be seen quickly and prior to the next scheduled appointment. Nevertheless, it does partially reduce the number of phone calls needed.

4. Consider writing prescriptions for longer duration of time (e.g., 90 days) and with more refills. If this patients missed his or her appointment and called you for a refill, would you refill the medication? If so, maybe you should provide more refills to being with. Caveats: Make it clear to the patient that a prescription for 90 days does not mean that you don’t need to see him/her for 90 days.

Do you have tips and suggestions for how to reduce the number of phone calls a mental health clinician makes? Please share them with others by using the contact form below. If appropriate, we will post it on this web page.

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