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Online booking for doctors could cure millennial phone phobia

Sydney Morning Herald logoSydney Morning Herald 11/08/2018 Erin Stewart
Millennials: Phoning someone is just not something we’re used to. © Shutterstock Millennials: Phoning someone is just not something we’re used to.

Cold-calling other people became rude once the smartphone was invented. Sure, the original purpose of the phone is to talk to other people but as time goes on its purpose has evolved. We’re more likely to use our phones to take and upload selfies, to send others emojis and to read the news.

This is a generational thing – those older than say, 40, seem to be less hesitant when it comes to dialling someone’s phone number and actually talking to them. Younger folk will send a message or an email asking someone if it’s OK to call them before we do. The Wall Street Journal asked a range of professional millennials why they didn’t pick up the phone. They responded that phone calls interrupted them, that they were “burdensome”, and that phoning someone implied that you’re putting your own needs to talk right away over others’ workflow and schedule. One went so far as to unplug his desk phone and throw it into a cabinet.

Phoning someone is just not something we’re used to. We’re more likely to see it as an intimidating form of communication, one that requires an uncomfortable degree of spontaneity (you can’t edit what you say the way you can in a WhatsApp chat), one that’s used to deliver bad news (if someone’s died, we’re hardly likely to get a text message), and one that some of us might be afraid of.

This is a problem because we still live in a world where using the phone is important – particularly for our health. The new Victorian president of the Australian Medical Association, Julian Rait, has expressed concern that not enough of those under the age of 30 are seeing their GPs. Those aged 15 to 24 have the lowest rates of GP attendance in the country. This could mean that they’re missing out on treatment for things like sexually transmitted infections and mental health issues in particular. Rait suggests that one way we could fix this issue is if more clinics used online bookings.

As someone who rarely uses their phone to actually call people, it’s easy to keep putting off making a call. Sometimes you work up the courage to make the call only to find that the phone is engaged. Eventually, by the end of the day, the clinic is closed and you have to wait until the next morning to try again. When you do end up talking to a receptionist, you have to get out your schedule and barter about dates and times that could work. You have to spontaneously predict whether you’ll be able to get to the GP in time for the appointment, estimating how long it’ll take to get there from your other commitments, factoring in the likelihood of terrible traffic and so on.

But there’s no courage involved in installing an app and pressing a few buttons to make an appointment at an available time that suits you. There’s no bartering, no rapid time calculations and no beeping of an engaged phone line. Online bookings are an easy way to get millennials into the healthcare system.

Phone phobia isn’t necessarily what’s causing all millennials to shirk from going to the doctor when they’re sick. There are other reasons too: it can be hard to fit business hours appointments around busy schedules and sometimes wait times for appointments are too long. But eliminating this cause of reluctance – having to use a phone for its original purpose – could help more young people make much-needed appointments.

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