The telephone has always intrigued me. It is one of the most effective communication tool available. It can make or break a business deal or a personal relationship. And amazingly few people know how to use this most basic tool effectively. Indeed, many people have an adversarial relationship with it. I know people who will ignore a ringing phone not because they think they will be solicited by a telephone marketer but simply because they think whoever is on the line wants to violate their privacy.
It's obvious the phone has had a profound psychological impact on society. This is especially true today with the advent of mobile phones, which are ubiquitous. There is nowhere we can go without being available via phone, so it is especially noteworthy how poor our telephone skills are.
Manners seem to have been put on hold on the phone. We've all had the experience of being treated rudely when attempting to transact business or get information from someone.
If you think I'm exaggerating about telephones and psychology, you should read Jeff Goldsmith's new book, Digital Medicine: Implications for Healthcare Leaders, in which he describes how physicians felt about the phone when it was first introduced. He uses that experience to give us insight as to why today's physicians may be averse to adopting new technologies.
"Physicians have sometimes been blamed for slowing the spread of computerization in healthcare," he writes. "Some observers have speculated that physicians are technophobic and have resisted adopting modern IT because they feel it erodes their professional autonomy." Then he quotes Harvard University medical ethicist Alissa Spielberg about early physician reaction to the telephone: "From its inception, the telephone engendered (physician) concerns about privacy and security. Its intrusiveness into daily living and personal space made the telephone particularly vexing to early users who complained about solicitations, eavesdroppers and even `wire transmitted germs.' ... As the telephone became embedded within American culture, patients expected their physicians to be accessible at any time for almost any reason. Physicians felt vulnerable, even `slaves' to a potential barrage of calls from anxious patients." That could easily be a description of doctors and their feelings about computerization.
However, Spielberg points out, in the end physicians did embrace the telephone. "Although patients and physicians recognized potential problems with confidentiality and care over the telephone, most also conceded that the telephone dramatically altered the patient-physician relationship by making private what was once public."
So maybe with this in mind we can get a little better perspective on why information technology in medicine has been slow in coming. Physicians have legitimate concerns and too often in our rush to adopt exciting new technology we forget their history with other devices.
But my concerns about the telephone aren't so much with the practice of medicine. I get upset with the lack of manners too often displayed by those using phones. I can tell you this, many people who use phones treat them so casually that they make those around them uncomfortable.
For instance, after boarding a plane recently and awaiting takeoff I was shocked to hear a gentleman in front of me discussing some very personal matters, apparently with a love interest. He was talking in such a loud manner that there was no way any of us could ignore his remarks and after a while many of us just looked at each other and rolled our eyes.
Then there was another man I ran into who was having an animated discussion on his cell phone about some business deal. It wasn't going the way he wanted and he proceeded to use some profane words right in the lobby of a major hotel in Chicago in front of all kinds of strangers. It was not a pleasant experience for those nearby. He didn't seem to care about anyone except himself. The lack of manners and discretion and the obvious selfishness of people like this are incredible.
Another example are the people who now use remote microphones for their cell phones so they can keep their hands free for whatever else they are doing, mainly, it seems, to gesticulate. The problem is these devices make the cell phone user talk even louder, and it's hard to tell whom they are addressing. I've started to respond to someone in an elevator who I thought was talking to me, only to find he was on his phone.
Then there is voice mail. I've called places of business who still have people to answer phones but then suggest I use the person's voice mail to leave a message. As a matter of fact, they are insistent I use the voice mail because they don't want to go out of their way to write down a message. I take umbrage with that kind of thing because I have never really enjoyed dealing with automated devices when I want to actually talk to someone. Answering phones properly in a professional setting is important to any business because it is a moment of truth. It could be the caller's first encounter with that business. If they don't get personal attention and are instead told to follow a menu of options, they are less likely to call again.
So when it comes to the telephone, be it a land line or a mobile, let's all try a little civility, or at least a little lower volume.
Can you hear me now?
360 N. Michigan Ave.
Chicago, Ill. 60601-3806
E-mail: [email protected]
Lauer is the author of two books, Reach for the Stars and Soar with the Eagles, and is an experienced guest lecturer available for public speaking engagements. For more information, go to chucklauer.com.