Professional Communication — Phone Calls

When a phone call is required, consider what you need to say. Seems obvious, but unless you are calling your mom or bestie, keep rambling to a minimum.

Calling Health Care Providers

Simple, right? I-SBAR! Not so fast, dear nurse!
  • Do not feel the need to apologize. You are not bothering anyone. You are collaborating.
  • Do ask the other nurses on the unit if they need the same provider for anything.
  • Do make sure the provider sounds alert and engaged before you begin speaking.
  • Do make sure the issue is urgent and cannot wait until morning or until rounds.
  • Do use I-SBAR!
Don't call at 6am to update on non-critical lab results, to ask if the client can have a regular diet for lunch, or if a discharge is possible today. These requests only slow down the health care provider.
Do call about the client with newly observed GI bleeding. Be ready with a recent hemoglobin and hematocrit, vital signs, current medications that might aggravate or cause this bleeding, and how the client LOOKS.
  • Do be logged into the computer and have other relevant documentation available when calling.
  • Do be ready to look up anything, take orders, and answer questions.
  • Do try to call the right person.

Especially in large hospitals, one client might be seen by pulmonology, cardiology, internal medicine, infectious disease, and oncology. In this situation, calling the cardiologist about blood culture results will not be helpful to anyone; you might want the infectious disease doctor. (If the providers are mishandling the issue by passing it back and forth, call on your manager or nursing supervisor for assistance.)

  • Do not hold the recipient of your call hostage.
  • Document the conversation.
Doctors, nurse practitioners, and physician's assistants are busy. So are you! A chat may be lovely, but this is not the time to tell a story. Get to the point and document what you said and what the provider said.
ON-CALL providers
Add to the "I' in "ISBAR": State the name of the provider assigned to this client and the name of the facility. The HCP might be covering three hospitals, 9 doctors, and 48 patients this weekend. Help 'em out!
Leaving a Message
If you have to leave a message, follow the same rules, and make a point of following up to ensure the message was received and interpreted as intended.