Ten tips for communicating with doctors

Tom Barton

Dr Robyn Horsley gives us ten tips for great communication with the treating doctor.

You can get an injured worker back to work sooner if you build a great relationship with their treating practitioner. According to Occupational Physician Dr Robyn Horsley, that’s all about getting your communication style right.

Making a plan to communicate

“Employers need to sort out who they’re talking to, when they’re going to talk to them and what they’re going to talk about,” says Robyn. “It can’t be about diagnosis, it can’t be about discussing any of the psychological side of things. It has to be about capacity, certificate clarification and when the worker can return to work.”

Many employers might think they can’t get too involved because of confidentiality issues, but Robyn says an employer’s role is as much about being information-giving as anything else.

Top ten tips for discussing a case with the doctor

1.Ring at the right time.

“Having an awareness of how doctors work can get rid of some of the frustration [of dealing with them],” advises Robyn. Doctors are paid for face to face contact, treating patients - not for things such as phone calls.If doctors are in the middle of a very busy day, they won’t be keen to have discussions with non-patients.

Contact the doctor’s receptionist and ask when the best time would be to call; this is usually not on a Monday or Friday.

2.Call the right practice location.

If the treating practitioner works from multiple sites, make sure you’re ringing the actual practice where your injured worker sees the doctor. This ensures that the patient file is available, which is crucial.

“For those in the hospital system, you may have to ring them, sort out who you need to speak to, let them know who you are and make an appropriate time to ring them back in a day or so, to give them time to retrieve and read the file notes,” says Robyn.

3.Ensure the doctor has the correct file.

“If you ring and you talk about a worker, but the doctor doesn’t have the file in front of them, they’re at a disadvantage.” says Robyn. Make sure you’ve notified the receptionist about whom you’ll be referring to, in your conversation with the doctor, so he /she can have the file up in front of them when speaking with you.

4.Be succinct and clear.

Introduce yourself, where you are from, your role and the reason for your call very briefly. You can also fax or email through details of what you want to talk about prior to the call, such as a list of alternate duties for the doctor’s consideration.

5.Be precise about what you want to know.

E.g., what the injured worker can or can’t do, or when RTW can begin. You can also ask about increasing work hours, or clarification of medical certificate details. Don’t be intrusive - pushing for medical information - or you’ll risk getting the doctor off-side.

6.One major question per phone call.

“When you’re ringing a doctor, you don’t want to ring with a shopping list of things,” says Robin. “You’re much better sorting out one or two things that you want to achieve in that particular conversation.  If there are multiple things then you probably need to make another time.”

7.Check your phone style.

Make sure you’re also being “information giving”.  Avoid opinions about whether the worker’s condition is legitimate – remember that it’s ultimately up to the insurance agent to decide.

8.Be aware of the doctor’s mood.

"If a doctor is curt,” says Robyn, “they may have had a shocking morning - they’re human like the rest of us. There may have been multiple things that have gone wrong and the last thing they need is another phone call. Or, they may have a room full of people and they’re already behind.”

If you get through to the doctor and they sound tense or on edge, it’s best to keep the conversation brief and suggest you ring at a better time.

9.Dealing with psychiatrists.

“Psychiatrists are very sensitive about giving any information at all,” warns Robyn. “If the employer wants to give information to a psychiatrist, they probably need to do it in writing. If they want formal communication with a psychiatrist, my advice would be to communicate through a rehab provider or a doctor - with the patient’s consent’.

10.Record all conversations.

Make a note of what’s been said so that you can relay it to the injured employee. Ideally, the employee should be present while the conversation takes place, via speakerphone or conference call. This might be logistically difficult for a Case Manager, but is a great way to maximise information to the employee and minimise confusion and misunderstandings.

Dr Robyn Horsley specialises in Occupational Medicine at H.D.A. Medical - Suite 8,
200 Sydney Road, Brunswick Victoria 3056
. Ph. (03) 9387 4588.