When visitors are not allowed in the hospital, health practitioners should contact family members by phone at least once a day. The use of video calling platforms should be explored, with the opportunity to have multiple family members included simultaneously from different locations. The patient should also be included if they are able to communicate, in which case, family members should be prepared with a description of the patient’s appearance and environment.
PreparationIt is important to consider who should be part of the conversation, including whether you are the best person to lead the call. An interpreter should participate when the family and the health care staff do not share a primary language. The patient’s bedside nurse should also be included, particularly for more challenging conversations. Furthermore, it may be helpful to write down the patient’s and family members’ names, and even key phrases that you would like to use, and to rehearse the conversation with a colleague, particularly when breaking catastrophic news.
These calls should be made from a quiet space without interruptions, where background noise is minimised, phone reception is reliable and privacy and confidentiality are assured. We must resist the temptation to do other things while on the phone, such as writing in the patient’s notes.
IntroductionDuring the introduction, we should ideally use our first names and provide our role. Terms such as consultant, registrar, intensivist and physician are jargon; it is better to use general terms such as doctor or nurse. It is also important to use the patient’s first name; for example, “Hello. My name is Helena, and I am a doctor helping to look after your husband, Walter”.
Check that the person can take the call safely, especially when calling a mobile phone, as the person may be driving or otherwise unavailable. We should consider directing them to use a speakerphone or technological solutions such as conference calling to include other people in the conversation.
It is useful to set the agenda of the phone call early using a “warning shot”, if appropriate (Box 1 and Online Appendix).