What's Wrong with This Call?
Here's the transcript from a recent phone call.
Person calling (P): I'm calling from Dr. Marshall's* office. I need to speak with Carrie*.
Me: She's not available. This is her mother. I can take a message.
P: I can't leave a message with you. I need to speak with Carrie. I'll try back later.
My daughter, Carrie, has been dealing with unpleasant symptoms for a year and a half. When her symptoms ramped up about three months ago, Dr. Marshall sent her for an abdominal US and then a HIDA scan. The X-ray tech from the doctor's office told me the HIDA scan was abnormal and the referral department would call with my daughter's appointment.
That same night, Carrie came down at 1 a.m. complaining of stomach pain and a headache - both so bad she couldn't sleep. She'd never experienced nighttime pain. We were up until 4 a.m. The phone awakened me around 8 a.m. The above conversation ensued.
I hung up the phone and freaked out. My daughter's symptoms had been escalating for weeks. She'd just had her worst night ever on the heels of two tests with abnormal findings. Up until this phone call - even just yesterday, the nurses spoke with me about the details of Carrie's health issues. Now, there's information they won't give me?
After a few deep breaths, I kicked myself. I was so flabbergasted that I hadn't thought to press the woman about why she wouldn't give me Carrie's information. That one question may have stopped my head from spinning. However, in retrospect, multiple factors created the conditions ripe for an unsettling phone call.
I was up until 4 a.m. with my daughter's first nighttime episode of pain. My anxiety was heightened by a combination of Carrie's new, intense symptom and my exhaustion.
I was awakened by the phone call after only 4 hours of sleep. I started off the conversation somewhat disoriented.
The caller didn't say she was from the referral department. Knowing she was calling about a referral, rather than a test result, would have mitigated any anxiety on my part.
This withholding of information was an exception, not the rule. I'd had multiple conversations with the medical staff concerning Carrie's care over the last few weeks. This behavior was a sudden, unexpected change in the defined rules of communication.
If we consider these factors when speaking with clients, we can make small adjustments that will enhance communication. Structure the phone call with the client in mind, taking into consideration you may be catching her at a bad time. When you contact clients, make sure you identify yourself clearly. If you're introducing new parameters for interaction, take the time to explain why they have changed.
* Names have been changed