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Tips for avoiding wrong phone numbers
Avoiding the wrong phone number problem begins during the intake process, says Patrick Hurd, JD, senior counsel and leader of the healthcare industry group with the law firm of LeClair Ryan in Norfolk, VA. Any effort spent up front will be better than spending far more time later trying to track someone down, and he suggests thinking outside the box.
Hurd suggests these tips for avoiding liability risks from bad phone numbers and other contact information:
Educate the patient about the importance of the information. Rather than just asking for a phone number, point out that this is the way the provider will contact the patient with important information. Stress that it is very important that the phone number be current and accurate. Most people assume that the information is sought for billing purposes, so be sure to explain how it is vital for patient safety.
Pay special attention to patients whose native language is not English. Make sure to provide an interpreter or written information that makes clear to them the purpose of asking for contact information and why they should provide it accurately.
Document your efforts to obtain correct information. This may include having the patient sign a statement acknowledging the accuracy of the information and the potential consequences of providing false contact data.
Consider putting some responsibility on the patient. Rather than calling the patient with test results, consider having the patient call after a designated period to obtain the results. Provide specific instructions regarding who and when to call, explaining the importance of the test results. If the patient never calls, the provider still may be obligated to follow up, but the initial burden is on the patient; and a failure to call further insulates the provider if the information is not conveyed.
When a patient calls for test results or other reasons, note the caller ID. If it is different from the phone number on record, note the additional number in the patient's file when documenting the phone call.
Obtain additional information that may facilitate contact. Ask the patient for information such as the employer, which could be used later to track down the patient. Ask when was the last time the patient saw a doctor and which doctor. Ask about e-mail addresses, and even social networking usage such as Twitter and Facebook. In a crisis, these could be avenues for reaching the person, and even indigent patients sometimes use social networking sites through free computer access at libraries.
Ask for more than one emergency contact. Getting more than one increases the chances that one will be valid.
Test the phone number. When the patient provides a contact phone number, some providers test it immediately during the intake process. If the number doesn't ring the person's cell phone or reach a home telephone, the problem can be addressed immediately. Be sure to document that you tested the phone number, even if does ring to the person's cell phone or home. The documentation shows that, at least at that moment, the phone number was confirmed and linked to that person.
Keep them around if you're suspicious. If there is reason to suspect that the person is giving false information or will be difficult to reach, and if you are testing for something serious such as a communicable disease, find a reason to keep the person in the facility long enough to get the results back. That won't be possible when the results take days to come back, but it is an option when waiting for a few hours.