'Why I Give Patients My Cell Phone Number’

01/11/2016

John Morley Sits Down With PatientsPictured: John Morley sits down with patient


ST. LOUIS — SLUCare Physician Group geriatrician John Morley, M.D., shares his home and cell phone numbers with patients so he can be easily reached when they need him.

"When I was a child, I remember that when I was sick my parents phoned the doctor and within a couple of hours he would appear with his black bag at my house. This easy access to a doctor was one of the great comforts of my neurotic youth," said Morley, who also is director of geriatrics at Saint Louis University School of Medicine.

"Based on this experience, when I became a doctor, it never crossed my mind not to give my patients my home number."

Morley has given patients his number for 40 years and he remembers very few times when he's received calls at inappropriate times.

Her phone call to me serves the purpose of letting her know she is not alone and calms her down."

"When they do come, they are often like the 85-year old who phones me two or three times a week about her blood pressure. She measures it multiple times a day and when she becomes anxious it gets high," Morley said. "Her phone call to me serves the purpose of letting her know she is not alone and calms her down."

As health care becomes increasingly complex, doctors need to make connecting with patients one of their highest priorities, Morley said. Having a relationship with his patients and their family — where they expect he will be available by phone when needed — is key. 

Morley recalls a recent call from a daughter about her 95-year-old mother, which reminded him of how important it is to listen for what might be unsaid. 

"Her mother had stopped doing anything and was sleeping day and night. At first I felt she needed to go to the emergency department, but as I continued the conversation, I realized that the daughter was asking permission to allow her mother to stay at home, and if it was time, let her slip away peacefully into God's arms," he said.

The recipient of multiple national awards for leadership in geriatrics and recognized by the American Geriatrics Society for lifelong achievements in caring for older adults, Morley has taken calls around the world and in his dining room.

"I tell my patients while my cell phone works in Machu Picchu, Beijing, Vietnam, Australia, India, Lebanon and all over Europe, it doesn't work in my home in St. Louis County. So, my patients need both my cell phone and my home phone number," Morley said. "I willingly share both."

And while house calls and personal phone conversations are rooted in Morley's past, he predicts telemedicine will become the wave of the future.

"As I look to the future, it becomes clear to me that most doctor visits will be done by telemedicine. Patients will be able to connect with a physician anytime, anywhere by telephone, Skype or email," Morley said.

Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: cancer, infectious disease, liver disease, aging and brain disease and heart/lung disease. 

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SLUCare Physician Group is the academic medical practice of Saint Louis University, with more than 500 health care providers and 1,200 staff members in hospitals and medical offices throughout the St. Louis region. SLUCare physicians are among the most highly trained in their fields -- more than 50 specialties in all -- and are national and international experts, renowned for research and innovations in medicine.

By Nancy Solomon