Go Ahead, Give Out Your Cell Number
In June of 2013, Dr. Marty Becker wrote an intriguing article for Veterinary Economics on giving personal phone numbers out to clients. Veterinarians are constantly walking a fine line between guarding their “off time” and providing their clients with easy access in case of emergencies or questions.
As a laboratory animal veterinarian, my clients are researchers and I want them to get a hold of me if they have a question, but when I am spending the weekend with family I may want them to direct their questions to the on-call vet.
In essence, I think all vets want a phone number with a personal secretary that determines when and how people can get a hold of us. Who has the spare cash for that?
But what if you had a special number to give out. One that rings any phone you tell it to ring. One that rings only when you allow it to ring. And one that can have a customized voicemail message based on the caller or the time of day.
What if I told you this already existed? And what if I told you it was free?
Enter Google Voice
Some of you may have heard of this free service that Google provides, but don’t know what it does or why people seem so evangelistic about it.
Google Voice essentially gives you the magical personal secretary that was alluded to earlier. You get to choose who, when, and where someone can call you.
Google Voice in Veterinary Practice
Rather than explain the features of the service, I will let you know some of the ways I have used it in the past.
While I was in vet school (Michigan State, go Spartans!) we were issued pagers. This was to allow us to be paged for emergencies and (if we wanted) for clients to contact us. The problem with pagers is that they only display the number of the person who called, not why they called. To route around this problem, I always handed out my Google Voice number to clients (on the back of my business card, so they felt like I was doing them a huge fav or). What did this accomplish? When I received a phone call, my cell phone would ring and if I did not know the number, I let it go to voicemail. Google Voice allows you to listen to the voicemail as it was being recorded, so if it was an emergency I can break into the call and handle it. If it is not an emergency, I could call back when I had the time. Remember screening your calls with a tape answering machine? Same concept.
In the previous example, I mentioned that my cell phone would ring. You can actually set up the service to ring any number of phones; even have the phones ring at the same time. When someone calls my Google Voice number my cell phone, computer and home phone all ring at the same time, I just answer the one that is most convenient. You can also program it to ring certain phones during certain hours (e.g. ring my office phone from 8am to 7pm and my home phone from 7pm to 10pm). This feature came in very handy for when I was staying at a cabin with a landline, but no cell reception. I simply routed my calls to the cabin’s landline and anyone who dialed my number had no idea I was answering from a different phone.
Like Google Voice? Check Out VMD Tech’s 2-Part Post on Google Drive »
Another one of my favorite features of Google Voice is the ability to control who can contact you and when. I have a “rule” set up in my Google Voice settings that only allows people in my contacts list to call me after 10pm and before 6am. Everyone else goes directly to voicemail and my phone never makes a peep.
Speaking of voicemail, Google Voice will transcribe the voicemails and display them visually. You can also set these to show up in your email. This has allowed me to read a voicemail in the middle of a meeting without having to excuse myself to listen to a message. A word of warning, the transcriptions are not perfect, but they do provide the main gist of the phone message.
Text messages can be similarly filtered through your Google Voice number. Texts to your special number can even be set to show up in your email (think times when your phone is off or out of data range). VMD Tech’s own Dr. Caleb Frankel has encouraged some techy veterinary specialists to give their Google Voice number out to referring veterinarians to allow easy texting communications in this very way. Now they would never live without it!
I am sure that after reading this list of features there are many ways in which you could incorporate Google Voice into your busy veterinary life. I find that this service strikes an ideal balance between good communication with clients (researchers in my case) and protection of your personal time.
Convinced? Get started with Google Voice at voice.google.com and on iOS and Android.
About the Author
Dr. James Finlay is a southern California native. He attended veterinary school at Michigan State University's College of Veterinary Medicine after finishing his undergraduate work at BYU. After leaving Michigan State, he returned to the warmth and sunshine of California to start a combined residency/PhD program in laboratory animal medicine at the City of Hope Beckman Research Institute. When he is not working, he enjoys spending time with his wife and kids, traveling, geocaching and cycling. Follow Dr. Finlay on Twitter @james_finlay.