I recently had a family come to me for feeding treatment. They wanted to feed their child an age-appropriate diet of finger foods, but the child didn’t have the necessary oral-motor skills. When I expressed safety concerns to the client’s mother, she seemed to write me off.
I called the client’s pediatrician and expressed my concern for a severe choking hazard. We share a medical records system, so I saw my voicemail was received and transcribed by the physician’s office. The physician responded with one word, “noted.” Sometimes, it’s frustrating to deal with other medical professionals when you feel you are not being heard.
I find these approaches helpful when I try to reach out to other health care professionals:
As Martina McBride sang, “Do it anyway.”
Make the call. Send the email. You may not get a response, but do it anyway. There’s a chance your patient will be at their doctor’s office with their fourth ear infection, smiling—but not talking—when the doctor sees a transcribed voicemail from you in the files suggesting genetic testing. You do it for your patient, not for the doctor.
More on professional communication and civility
Ask how they prefer to communicate.
Some doctors prefer to pick up the phone and some catch up on emails in off hours. Speech-language pathologists tend to be more flexible communicators than some other professionals, given our expertise! Use this to your advantage.
Get to the point.
I know. There’s so much you want to say, but keep it brief. We use an SBAR format:
S=Situational: What is the problem or patient? I saw Jamie Smith today.
B=Background: What is important to know? She has a history of pneumonia.
A=Assessment: What is your evaluation? I observed watery eyes and wet vocal quality after drinking.
R=Recommendation: What action needs to take place? Please send a referral for a MBSII (Modified Barium Swallow Study) as I suspect a swallow dysfunction and possible aspiration.
If a physician doesn’t respond to any of your emails or voicemails, but then asks you to squeeze in an urgent patient, it’s tempting to give the cold shoulder. Instead, use this opportunity to get your foot in the door when it comes to communicating with this doctor.
Building these relationships by being helpful and available can greatly improve communication.
Invite the professional to talk with a group of co-workers or peers.
This sounds crazy, but it works. If you have a difficult time communicating with a dietician, for example, invite them to do a short presentation for you and your peers. In our case, the SLPs on my pediatric rehabilitation team were hungry for knowledge and wanted to work with the dieticians’ recommendations but didn’t know how. Our relationship with them has dramatically improved.
SLPs often deal with challenging patients—and sometimes difficult parents—but it caught me by surprise when other medical professionals rarely responded to my messages. Take heart and keep trying. Your efforts can yield great success—even if it takes some time!
How do you get through to other health care or education professionals about a client, patient or student? Share your suggestions in the comment section below.
Julie Schmidt MS, CCC-SLP, is a clinician at Cook Children’s Hospital Rehab Clinic in Mansfield, Texas. She provides treatment related to feeding, swallowing, articulation, and language development, as well as family-centered care and help in accessing community and school-based resources. Julie.Schmidt2@cookchildrens.org