Optometric Management Tip # 138   -   Wednesday, September 08, 2004
Cell Phones in Your Exam Room

We’ve all been there. You’re in the middle of your refraction and a strange electronic ring tone emits from some unidentifiable place. The tone reminds you of a silly song of some type, but your can’t quite place it. Ahhh, it’s your patient’s cell phone! What’s really amazing is that the patient takes the call, and begins to talk to the other person!

This is obviously rude behavior, and it’s a clear disregard for the doctor’s (or technician’s) time. It’s very annoying to just sit there while the patient gabs away about his business problems or personal plans for the evening. Time is money and you have other patients to see. Cell phone usage in public can be annoying in general – but in your own office? And why do people have to talk so loudly on cell phones? It’s called “cell-yell”. What should you do? And more important, how can you prevent it from occurring in the future?

It’s easy to take this kind of behavior personally and even get angry over it. That feeling can result in a very tough office policy, which may not be in your best interest in the big picture. I’ll admit that cell phones can even push my usual customer-centric philosophy to the edge. But like most things in practice, there is a positive way to handle this challenge.

The other point of view How to respond

My advice is to be understanding about cell calls and always remain pleasant, even if you’re pretty ticked about it. When the phone rings, I smile and say: “Do you need to take that?”

If the patient says no, just ignore it and let it ring. It will go to voice mail.

If the patient says yes, and begins to talk about anything other than “I’m at the eye doctor’s – I’ll call you back”, I say, “I’ll give you some privacy” – and I get up to leave the room. This almost always results in the patient not wanting me to leave (who wants to wait for the doctor again?), and he will cut off the call immediately.

If he wants to look at the phone display to see the caller ID, just let him do it. Be understanding, at least once or twice during this visit. It only takes a few seconds. The patient will see you as a warm, considerate professional.

If the patient apologizes for the interruption, which he usually will, say something nice in return – like “no problem, cell phones are great devices aren’t they?”

If you walk into the exam room and your patient is already on the cell phone, try to be understanding. Smile. You may be running late yourself, and the patient was waiting alone in a small room with nothing to do. Look the patient in the eye while you sit down and wait – he or she should wrap it up in a few seconds. He does need to let the other person stop talking. If he doesn’t end the call soon, then use your “I’ll give you some privacy” line and get up and leave the room.

Best wishes for continued success,

Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Chief Optometric Editor, Optometric Management