Tips for telephone consultations

With many hospital and GP appointments now via phone or video, we're sharing our tips, along with tips from blood cancer patients, on how to get the best out of a telephone consultation.

In light of COVID-19, changes have been made in the way the NHS normally operates in order to adapt to this challenging situation. This includes a reduction in the number of face-to-face hospital and GP appointments. Instead, the practice has shifted towards offering online, telephone and video consultation where possible. Therefore, we have put together a blog to offer a few tips, many recommended by patients, to enable you to make the best out of a telephone consultation.

Prepare before your consultation

1. Make notes beforehand

Patient tips:

Make a list of things you want to ask/discuss because it’s easy to get distracted or forget.

Write down questions you have before the call so you don’t forget to ask.

Have a written list of questions you want to ask. I always find all the questions I want to ask go out of my head unless I’ve got them written down.

It is important to do some preparation before your consultation. It would be a good idea to make notes and write down a few questions you want to clarify and discuss with your GP/consultant. This will help ensure everything is addressed during the consultation. If you want to discuss certain symptoms or side effects of a treatment you are currently having, it would be worth taking detailed notes, for example when you started experiencing them and whether they affect your day-to-day living.

Making notes beforehand means you won’t forget to ask any questions and therefore those concerns and questions can further be acknowledged by your medical team. A telephone consultation means your doctor will not be able to see and examine you,; therefore, it is even more important to get across your concerns, questions and explain your situation in as detailed a manner as possible.

2. Make sure your phone has signal and will ring

Many people have a habit of having their phone on silent or vibrate the majority of the time. Make sure you will be able to hear when a phone call is coming in. If you do miss a call, they may leave a voicemail suggesting they will call back at a certain time.

3. You may a get a call from a private or blocked number

Medical professionals may call from a private or unknown number, which means their number will not be displayed when they call. Some people choose not to answer these type of calls, as this is also associated with sales or scam calls. If you do get a call from a private number around the agreed time, do answer it.

During the consultation

  1. Do not be afraid to ask questions

Once you have had the opportunity to explain your situation and raise any concerns, your GP/consultant may then provide suggestions. Do not be afraid to ask questions or ask them to repeat anything you are unsure about. If you are finding it difficult to understand what your doctor is saying – maybe they are going through everything at a fast pace or they are using difficult terminology to explain something – again it is very important to continually question and clarify anything at this stage. For example, repeating what they are suggesting may help to check you have clearly understood the advice. Particularly towards the end of the call, repeating and summarising  key points or management plans discussed with your doctor will further help to make sure you understand everything clearly.

Patient tips:

Key questions: 1. Results are xxxx; are you concerned/satisfied that treatment is working?

“2. My symptoms are xxxx; is this normal, is there a way to give relief to this?

“3. What are my options?

“Ask your family member/partner to listen in.”

One good thing we do is I talk to the doctor on speaker phone and my wife takes down notes so we do not miss anything. This has happened in the past especially if it is complex or shocking news or information.

Regardless of whether face-to-face or telephone/online, we’ve always had a notebook to jot questions beforehand and left a space to write the answers. I’ve always attended with my husband and even now I’m there for the telephone appointments so can write things down as you often forget what is said.

As with face-to-face consultations, you may decide to take a family member or your partner with you to your appointments. You can also do the same and ask them to listen in to your remote consultation. They may take notes for you whilst you are concentrating on listening and asking questions, so that you can look back on them to understand on any agreed management plan or the next steps after your appointment has ended. Additionally, if you have forgotten to raise any questions or concerns, they may help remind you, and therefore you can make sure everything has been effectively covered during your consultation.

2. Be clear on the next steps

For example, ask and be clear on whether there will be a follow-up appointment and what the format will be (face-to-face, telephone etc.). If they have prescribed medication, be clear on how that will be arranged, whether you need to collect or if they could arrange a delivery service. Be clear on the management plan and the plan of action if your symptoms/side effects progress. It is important at this stage to double-check and repeat to make sure you are clear on the next steps advised by your doctor.

Patient tip:

They usually want blood again in a few weeks and then another appointment. Clarify if this will be arranged by them or whether you need to phone and book in. They don’t always say who will be responsible just that you’ll need to be tested and appointment is in x amount of time.

3. Keep the focus on you

Your doctor or nurse will have many calls to make in clinic and will want to spend as much of the available time discussing your health problems. Keep small talk to a minimum where you can.

4. Ask what other services your GP/hospital can provide following your consultation

Patient tips:

Ask for access to your medical records online. This will enable access to results, consultations and even hospital correspondence (with your GP’s permission of course). This will help you keep track of things and also remind you of what was discussed when a lot is covered.  (Important to note: This service may only be available in England).

I ask for results to be posted to me.

If your GP has AccuRx, they can text you at the end of a telephone consultation with a brief summary of the issues discussed.

It is worth enquiring about whether the above services are provided by your GP/consultant, allowing you to have a clear record of any test results, agreed plans or key points from your discussion. If you generally receive paper copies of your blood test report, see if these can be arranged via email or post instead. If you would prefer video consultations as opposed to telephone appointments in the future, that is something you can also discuss with your doctor at this point and see if that is a service they are able to provide.

Lots of GPs can do video consultations.

Hubby got diagnosed over the phone in March – we were numb, we have had five more phone calls. I asked if we could have a FaceTime as it is nice to put a face to the caller – he said working on it…”

After your consultation

  1. Reflect on the call

Look at your notes to make sure you understand everything. If you had someone listening in, you can discuss everything that was covered during the call and be clear on any questions and concerns you had. Make any final notes on any agreed future appointments or plans. It is also important to keep these notes for any future reference.

Given the uncertain situation we are currently in, remote consultations are likely to carry on for a while. Overall, the key is to make sure you are prepared before your consultation – take detailed notes, constantly ask questions, repeat anything you are unsure about, enquire about additional services and, finally, be clear on the next steps.

Checklist for patients

Checklist for patients – what to have next to you for your next phone appointment

  • Your phone, on loud
  • A quiet and private location
  • Glasses or hearing aids
  • A list of medications (including those not related to your blood cancer)
  • Any notes on your symptoms (e.g. a diary)
  • A pen and paper
  • Any medical letters or results you have received in the past
  • Details of any appointments you have had with other medical professionals since your last consultation
  • A list of questions you want to discuss in the consultation
  • Your diary or calendar for your next appointment

Contact us:

If you have any further questions, you can contact the Patient Advocacy Team at: advocacy@leukaemiacare.org.uk. You can also call our helpline on 0800 010 444.

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