Little is known about the mechanisms used in internal medicine residency programs to handle patient telephone calls. To address this, a survey of internal medicine residents was conducted at 10 different internal medicine residency programs. The response rate was 76% (N = 388). Approximately 90% of the residents handled patient telephone calls. The residents saw a mean of 7 patients per week in clinic (standard deviation +/- 2) and received an average of 2 patient calls daily (standard deviation +/- 2). The mean number of patient calls received each night on-call was 3 (standard deviation +/- 6) and on weekend call days, an average of 4 patient calls were received (standard deviation +/- 8). Internal medicine residents reported spending an average of 7 minutes per call talking to the patient (standard deviation +/- 5) and 8 minutes in follow-up activities (standard deviation +/- 6). Residents reported documenting calls less than 35% of the time. Residents disagreed with the statements "I am very satisfied with my patient telephone call system" and "My patients are very satisfied with my telephone call system." Most internal medicine residents handle a significant amount of patient telephone calls, and the systems for handling these calls are less than satisfactory. The procedures used to manage patient calls and the training for this component of practice should be improved.