Let's Get Vir-tu-al, Vir-tu-al- Phone Communication in the 21st Century

by
Baber Ghauri, MD

You should consider playing one or both of the following songs as you read this post:

Lemme Hear Your Body Talk

If you know who this is,
you probably need
to read this post.

Smartphones have completely revolutionized the way our society communicates.  However, the way we use voice communication is largely unchanged.  For example, we all continue to insist that we each memorize and store each other's phone numbers.  Unfortunately, this practice is not going to change anytime soon, but we can finally address some of the inefficiency that results.  As an example, many of us continue to walk around with two smartphones- one personal and one for business use.  This is completely unnecessary for most people and this post will offer some solutions to simplify the way you manage your communication modalities.  All these suggestions are based on obtaining a virtual phone number.

So Why Do I Want to do this Again?

A virtual number has many advantages:  

  1. Separate- your business life from your personal life
  2. No phone attached- you can redirect to any phone, cellular or landline
  3. Extendable- an ring multiple devices simultaneously, including your PC or tablet
  4. Configurable- can ring on a schedule (ie. go to voicemail after 5 pm)
  5. Flexible- can be redirected on the fly
  6. Control- gives you control over the actual number and removes potential dependency on any single service provider.
Voice-Over-Internet Protocol (VOIP) is essentially the Internet of phone service and allows phone calls to be connected through the web.  Whether you know it or not, basically all phone lines are now on VOIP and the quality of these calls continues to increase.  Verizon even has an HD voice service which claims to be the clearest way to gab on the phone.  There are many, many, many free and paid options for this service but for the purpose of illustration, I'll use Google Voice/Hangouts because it's free and easy.  But still, I would encourage you to look at Skype, RingCentral, WhatsApp, and a myriad of others- especially if you don't want Uncle Google to know who is calling you and what they're saying to you- there is no free lunch.


Choosing Your Setup

Most people will want to have a personal number and a business number.  Although both can be virtual, to keep things simple, let's just say ONE of your numbers are through a traditional cell service provider.  In the US, we have a lot of options, but the big guys are Verizon, AT&T and Sprint among many others.  Depending on who's paying for your cell service, you'll have to figure out which of your numbers will be personal vs. business.  Because most people change their professional life more often than there entire personal life, I would suggest you designate your virtual number to business calls.

Ok, I'm Convinced, Let's Do This Thing

Once you figure out all of the above, you can sign up for Google Voice and be assigned a regular 10-digit phone number immediately after you complete your registration.  You can pick the area code and phone number of your choice or even use an alphabetical name (i.e. 800-FLOWERS).  You can also keep your existing number by "porting" it over from your existing provider.  Google has a tool to do this, but other services may or may not offer this option.  Once you've signed up, you have to configure the way you want to receive calls.  There are basically four options:
  1. You can forward the number to an existing phone:
    1. Cell phone
    2. Home phone
    3. Office phone
    4. Even your old rotary phone!
    5. All of the above simultaneously
  2. Install an app that controls the way the service works.
  3. Use the phone through your computer
  4. Theoretically, you can do all of the above, but there are a bunch of caveats to this that are beyond the scope of this post
Forwarding to an existing phone can be in two ways: you can have all phones ring simultaneously or in sequence.  Installing an app usually means that you need to login and stay "logged in".  Using your computer is relatively painless when it's a laptop, but using a desktop usually requires additional equipment- speaker and mic, worthwhile for the power user that sits at a desk all day.

Once you have your service configured, you can start giving out your number.  If people like you enough, you'll start receiving calls and text messages on it and if you're using Google Voice with all the trimmings, you'll love the new freedoms that will result.  Here are a few:
  1. You'll never have to worry about carrying your extra phone around anymore- as long as you're near one of your devices, you'll never miss a call again
  2. You'll always know if your business line is ringing- you can even put a special ringtone on it to help differentiate it
  3. Voice mails will be transcribed, aka "Visual Voice mail" 
  4. Transcribed voice mail can be forwarded to your e-mail and SMS
  5. Text messages will also magically be available on all your devices
  6. Never lose anyone's number again through Google's search functions (I try to mention a new contacts full name in my first message to them so that I have a permanent record of their phone number- it's a little awkward, but hey, it works!!).
As for your personal text messages, depending on your service provider, you may or may not have the option to sync them across devices.  For example, Verizon has an outstanding text messaging app that can be used on PC, MAC, Android, or IOS.  But for those that don't, you can use my favorite SMS sync service, mySMS to sync.  It's pretty easy to use, especially if you use the federated login option (through Google).

HIPAA Issues

For doctors and other hospital workers, HIPAA could be an issue- but chances are that it's already an issue with your existing provider.  You should not be sending patient health information (PHI) through SMS and should add a "please do not leave patient information" statement to your voice mail greeting message.

Summing It Up

All-in-all, drag yourself into the 21st century by setting up a virtual phone number.  It'll save you time, money, and energy.  It'll also help you keep your business life separate from your personal life.  Considering that the average American worker takes 2 weeks less vacation and works 2 weeks more than people in other nations, this may be more a prescription than a suggestion!


Sponsored by Google, I wish...


*The woman in the photo is Olivia Newton-John, a once famous actress and musician. 

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