How do I love thee [dear phone interview]? Let me count the ways.–Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Well, Browning may not have said that EXACTLY. In fact, she died 15 years before Alexander Graham Bell got his phone patent in 1876. It is hard to image that Bell, himself, could have predicted what his phone would morph into almost a century and a half later.
Years ago, I began interviewing patients by phone out of necessity. Today, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I work freelance, and when I write a patient story, I am almost never in the same location as the patient I need to interview.
Why do a phone interview?
1. No need to get out of your pajamas
Your best chance of building rapport with the patient is if you can relax. Being in their won environment (maybe even their own pajamas), the patient will also be more relaxed. And if you get that weird white spittle thing on your bottom lip (that so badly wants to attach to your top lip)–it won’t distract from your questions. Seriously though.
2. No travel time
For you and the patient, it is a lot easier to fit an interview in when you take out the inconvenience and time to travel. Also, if you are a freelancer like me, you probably don’t get paid to go to and from the interview anyway.
3. Easy to record
Here you can take advantage of all the technological recording options that come with your phone, computer, and any online service you might want to use. If you are nervous that one system will fail, it is easy to double up when you aren’t lugging equipment.
Recording, for me, serves a few purposes:
First, I don’t usually type fast enough to keep up with the interview. Recording keeps me from missing or misinterpreting what the patient says. Accuracy is never more critical than when dealing with someone’s medical information.
Second, if I don’t have to take notes or type rapid fire, I can relax into the conversation and really listen to the patient. This allows me to ask more informed follow-up questions and get a much better interview overall.
Third, I find that having the patient agree to a recorded interview helps reinforce the context. I want the patient to feel comfortable telling ME their story, but, they need to be clear that, ultimately, they are sharing their story with a much wider audience. No one wins if you get information that the patient regrets sharing.
Note: Always ask before you record anyone. I usually ask for a second “OK” once recording.
How to do a phone interview
1. Get their phone number
Yes, this is obvious but it bears mentioning. I have (more than once) gotten within hours (minutes) of a phone interview and realized I didn’t have a number to call. And yes, it is my practice to make the call and not have the patient call me. I do this for two reasons:
Control–It makes me feel powerful. Bwaah ha ha. Just kidding. Being in control means I can be prepared. Before I call, I get set up at my computer with my list of questions, notes, and my recording system ready. It is OK (not great) if the patient is late or unprepared when I call. But it is unprofessional (and super lame) if I am unprepared.
Technology–You may like to make all your calls on Google Hangout, but chances are, the 79-year-old lady who just had her hip replaced doesn’t have an account. When choosing how to call, do the patient a favor and make sure it allows you to call a regular phone number.
2. Have at least one recording system in place
Because of the ethics and surrounding legalities, not all devices let you record calls. Full disclosure– I am a Mac/Apple user. So, keep that in mind when you read the following recommendations:
Skype + Call Recorder– Calls between Skype accounts are free but to call a landline or cell phone using their service does come at a small cost. For my calls, I use the free version of an app called Call Recorder for Skype. I have been using this system for a few years now, and it hasn’t failed me yet.
Speakerphone + Recorder— I use this system as a backup, but a super responsible writer I know uses this reliably as her first choice. You probably get the gist from the title, but basically have your call on speaker and press record on another device nearby.
3. Transcribe the Interview
I did this myself for a long time, thinking it would save me money. Unless you have the right equipment and are trained to do transcription, it can be a slow and painful process. Figure it will take at least twice as long to transcribe the interview as it did to do the interview.
Note: When choosing a transcription service, make sure they are set up to do medical transcription and have HIPAA privacy practices in place.
Take a moment today to think about a phone calling/recording system that will work for you. Do some online investigating. Once you have chosen a system, put it in place and call your mom to make sure it works. When Monday rolls around you’ll be ready for that 8:00 call.
So, stay in those Minnie Mouse footie pajamas you bought yourself at the after-Christmas sale and tell the patient your webcam is broken….remember you are a professional.