Why I Hate the Phone, Reason X of N

The doctor said she would order an endoscopy, and that the endoscopy people would call me to schedule it. If I didn’t hear from them by Friday, I should call her back.

I didn’t hear from them by Friday. I called her back Monday. (…Okay, I called her back a week after that, because I didn’t want to call and I was still hoping to hear from the endoscopy people without having to do this.) I was on hold long enough to fill the dishwasher, finish William’s driver’s ed paperwork, empty the dish-drying rack, go downstairs for a new roll of paper towels and box of matches, and put away a Target bag of stuff I never got around to putting away yesterday.

The receptionist came on the line. She said oh, yes, sometimes the scheduler doesn’t get around to calling, but I could call the scheduler myself to get the process going more quickly. She gave me the number.

I called the number. I was on hold for long enough to get out my insurance card, tidy up the bathroom, and start dealing with the Mail Pile on the counter. The person who picked up the line had no idea what I was talking about. No idea at all. She could not really believe I was calling her, or why. She said they don’t have access to any of that information. She said they can only do what the doctor instructs them to do. She asked incredulously did I even know which doctor was doing the endoscopy? I said I did not. I repeated that my doctor’s office had told me to call this number. I added that my doctor had forwarded the information; was there any way to access it from there? No, this was impossible. They don’t even SCHEDULE endoscopies from this number, they only REGISTER them. …Okay, I have no idea what you are talking about, I guess I am the only one in the history of time who has been given this number by a doctor, I guess alllllll the other patients know exactly who in the GIGANTIC COMPLICATED MEDICAL SYSTEM to call about what, thank you for less than nothing and also for the unpleasant attitude as if I’m the idiot here rather than someone who is JUST FOLLOWING INSTRUCTIONS. (Actual Swistle words: “Okay! Well, thank you anyway, I guess I’ll give them a call back! Bye!”)

I had a little frustrated almost-weep. Watched Upside Down & Inside Out for distraction and a mental re-set. Went to the phone. Called my doctor. Was on hold long enough to play two rounds of Candy Crush. Their on-hold information recording has deteriorated considerably, and now sounds like “Here at bzztt bz pssshhhh YOUR HEALTH Is the bzt bzt bsssssstttss in your hands! Come to our pss psss pssssssssss BZT for convenient online ZZT bssssttsss….dot com!” Talked to someone else this time, so had to re-explain the situation.

She looked in my file and found that the information/order had been sent to a particular GI doctor at the end of March. She said they absolutely should have called me by now. She suggested I contact that office directly. She gave me the number. I called that office. A receptionist picked up with a tone of voice that communicates what a burden it is to have to deal with patients: “Good morning this is Nancy can you hold please there are two calls ahead of yours.” I held. After a minute, the call disconnected. I called back. “Good morning this is Nancy can you hold please I am dealing with a patient.”

I held. I was on hold long enough to adjust the time on the one-minute-off microwave clock, even though that meant consulting the manual. Thank heavens, though, it wasn’t Nancy who finally got back to me, it was friendly-sounding Lauren. “Hi! Have you been helped?” I said not yet, and she said, as if she would really be happy to do it, “Okay! How can I help you?”

I told her that my doctor had told me to call, and why. She was puzzled, but game to figure out what was going on. She looked in the computer and found me, and confirmed that they had all the information and the referral. But… “We have a scheduler who does all the scheduling. So I’ll leave her a message and she’ll call you, okay?”

I spent more than half an hour on the phone with FIVE different people to be almost exactly where I was before: waiting for a scheduler to call me. It was frustrating, I spent a lot of time on hold, and I didn’t encounter a high percentage of people who could do anything except give me another number. I had one conversation with someone who seemed actually hostile, and two brief encounters with someone who hates her job. I am left mentally arguing with EVERYONE. Except Lauren. Lauren was really nice.

27 thoughts on “Why I Hate the Phone, Reason X of N

  1. ccr in MA

    Thank heaven for Lauren! For the rest of it, argh. The system does not work very well (or at all, one might argue).

    And believe me, I totally get hating your job, but suck it up, people, the caller should not know that you hate your job.

  2. Becky

    You have just described one of the main reasons that I hate the phone, and why I will give almost any business my money if they will let me schedule/communicate online (email or their system) or via text message.

    I also find it hard to believe no one else has ever called there looking to schedule. I think it more likely that people do it all the time, and she was annoyed about that, and decided to take it out on the customers, rather than figure out WHY that is happening (like maybe the scheduler needs help/to work harder/something).

  3. Celeste

    It is such a burden being a patient. I mean that. Nothing is straightforward. Nothing is simple. You never know if the next person you have to deal with will be obnoxious or an angel. As you’ve noted, it’s a real setback to a person to be treated poorly. Worst of all, we’re only going through all this because we need some help.

    Between the phone calls, the patient portal passwords, and the processes you need to follow for prescription refills, it’s like having an unpaid part time job you can’t quit. I’m sure that off-loading all this work saves someone money, but it’s paid for with our time and aggravation.

  4. Ruby

    This is why I think this sort of thing should be set up online. Besides the fact that phone calls can be awkward and/or time-consuming as heck, it would be so much easier to get the information to the right person. Fill out the form, it gets sent to the inbox of whoever handles that kind of thing, or at least to someone who can forward it to the right address.

    If they absolutely must have a phone conversation before they can set up the appointment (which, to be fair, would kind of make sense), it would be SO MUCH EASIER if they already had all the information from an online form. “Hi, we saw that you set up an appointment for [reason] with Dr. [Name] on [date and time], is that correct?” “Yes, see you then!” Preferably the office would hire someone with Lauren’s personality to make these calls.

  5. Meredith

    I am at a loss as to why none of this can be accomplished online in the year 2017. What an inefficient, needlessly bureaucratic system. And despite Nancy’s tone, the burden is actually all on the patient — the person who needs some kind of medical treatment, which itself is stressful and difficult, whatever it may be. Ugh.

  6. Alyson

    I think more the point is, why would the process be so ridiculous – whether by phone OR online? If you say, ok, this has to be set up by phone, there should be some process there by which you can circumvent or troubleshoot if it’s obviously not working. Even if you set this up online – the person in charge of scheduling can ignore his inbox and not call people, or skip over people – the system has broken down (it’s been weeks) and the only help anyone can offer is – well, we have a system. Why isn’t anyone talking to the scheduler? is it outsourced to a foreign country? do they hate this person? You know someone IN the office has a better chance of moving it forward than random person who cannot even get in touch with proper person due to all the roadblocks. So frustrating!

  7. HereWeGoAJen

    I hate how much time I spend trying to make sure other people have done their jobs. Like this shouldn’t have been your problem at all! Someone should have called you like they said they were going to! I spend HOURS per week doing things like this, where if other people had just DONE what they SAID they were going to do, I wouldn’t have to do any of it.

  8. Alice

    This is not quite the same at all, but felt like an appropriate place to complain: I have been trying to get the hospital where I gave birth (LAST AUGUST) to run my daughter’s medical bills through her own insurance for SEVEN MONTHS. (I used her birth as a Life Event to switch myself and place her on my husband’s insurance, so we could all just be on the same plan. However, since she didn’t exist prior to her own birth, she was unable to have an insurance card or ID until after being born, and this has caused the entire system to break, because they couldn’t charge her not-yet-existing insurance ID for her own birth.) I have spent approximately 23846532 hours on hold and on the phone with a wide variety of people at the hospital billing department providing her insurance number repeatedly. And faxing a copy of her insurance card. Repeatedly. And every single time, the person I’m talking to assures me that THEY have fixed the problem, and the next bill I receive will have been run through insurance.

    And then I receive another bill for several thousand $$s, with no insurance applied, and I get to start the process over again, once more with someone who is super-sure that they have totally fixed the problem this time and her bills are being run through the proper insurance right now swearsies, new corrected bill coming soon!


    1. Alexicographer

      I once solved a problem involving a hospital billing us for medical care provided to my husband, where I could not get them to explain why it was not covered/submitted to insurance or why we were getting two separate bills (it turns out the answer related to the difference between pre-admission testing and admitted procedures, but no one managed to communicate this to me) by sending a politely but detailed and strongly worded paper letter (how quaint) cc’ing our state’s insurance commissioner (or whoever the heck oversees the regulation of such stuff) explaining the steps I had already taken to try to get this resolved and detailing the painful lack of information/assistance I had, to date, received. I sent both letters (the actual one and the cc) certified mail, signature of receipt required and got prompt and effective attention (also, the hospital dropped the charge for the pre-admission services). Best money I’ve ever spent on postage.

    2. Tia

      The system is probably befuddled because no one has had the insight to tell you that for the first 30 days, baby is covered under mom.

  9. Kris

    I had similar with a credit card company. By the time, after many calls, I finally reached the one person in the entire company who was able to do anything, I ended up asking her for her direct line – just in case anything else went wrong.

    It did, I called her, and SHE FIXED IT AGAIN!

    I kept that woman’s number for a couple of years.

  10. Carrie

    This is the type of thing that will inevitably cause my husband and I to divorce as we fight over who should tackle the Huge Bureaucratic Bullshit Phone call. I usually lose out. Then I feel stabby towards him for hours.

    So sorry, Swistle.

  11. Suzanne

    And where is the scheduler in all this? The person who was supposed to call you in the first place, and on whom you are now waiting, again? BLARGH. (I get that it’s probably not the same person, but still. Blargh.)

    I am hopeful you have – or can easily procure – some medicinal Easter candy.

    P.S. The hold music issue is the same for my doctor. Doesn’t anybody LISTEN to the hold music once they set it up? I would much rather listen to silence than intermittent static.

    P.P.S. WILLIAM’s driver’s ed paperwork!!!!

  12. MomQueenBee

    Last week, the day after I was discharged, I called the specialist’s office because LANDMINE IN MY LUNGS. I left a message explaining the situation to the scheduler’s voice mail then literally sat by the phone until I had to go see my general practice doctor to let him know Chapter Two. I mentioned I hadn’t been able to get through to the specialist and he picked up his phone and got through on the first ring. “Oh yes, we got her message,” they told him. “We’ve been busy.” Pffffft.

  13. Tessie

    Besides the many, MANY inconveniences involved in phone communication, my main beef is the complete lack of written evidence that ANYTHING AT ALL HAPPENED.

    Ava and I recently changed insurance (rather than pay TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS A MONTH to stay on our previous policy through COBRA). It’s an HMO, so can’t wait to find out what treasures are in store.

  14. Maggie

    I feel this frustration so very much. Just the other day I came unglued (relatively calmly and professionally) at my son’s orthodonist’s office when they tried to tell me the appointment to get his braces that I’d scheduled months in advance so it wouldn’t conflict with school hours (ortho available only M and T at 9 and 11 AM to do braces) was, in fact, not the time he was going to get his braces but a THIRD evaluation appointment. NO. I didn’t swear or scream, but I was not my usual cheerful self as I advised them that there was no way on god’s earth I was paying the co pay AGAIN, missing work AGAIN, and putting off the braces AGAIN for a third evaluation for something his ortho told us he needed last October. The person I talked to was very sorry but there was no possible way to fix it blah blah. Yes, she conceded it was unfortunate that a profession whose clients have to be at least 85% school-aged kids has office hours only during school hours to do braces, but basically too bad. The next day they called back because they miraculously found a way to squeeze in Oldest’s braces on the day he was supposed to be getting them. I mean, good outcome, but the run around leading up to it left me breathlessly hostile.

    1. Missy

      Our orthodontist office built in a new office withing walking distance of both our high school and middle school – brilliant. “Breathlessly hostile” is my new favorite phrase!

  15. Bff

    In some ways Lauren was a curse because she disarmed you with her niceness/ human decency. Had you gotten crabby patty, you might have insisted on the scheduler’s direct line. Not that you would have wanted to make another call but…

  16. Jane in PA

    When I hit DEFCON 5 like this, my next step is generally to call the office and ask to speak with the office manager. I imagine that you probably don’t like dealing with things this way but let me tell you, 9 times out of 10 l, shit gets done. If the regular doctor’s office has nice staff, sometimes you can get your doctor on the case to get it done. Of course it shouldn’t be this hard in the first place!!!

  17. nic

    Ugh, I hate this stuff so much. I inevitably end the call with a teary voice going “ok well i know it’s not your fault but i’m still pretty upset but thank you anyway” and then i hang up and burst out crying.
    My new strategy is to then write very lengthy emails that are more meant for myself to get rid of the whole story and move on, but i’ve noticed they’ve been pretty effective in getting actual results. Surprising, but satisfying.

  18. Kwt

    As a receptionist who works in a specialist office with MANY DIFFERENT departments/types of doctors/etc. If a patient were to call in about a referral and not know which doctor or even which department it was sent to, there is absolutely nothing I can do to help them. The referrals come by fax and are not input into the online system until something is booked which means I need to track down the paper referral in a very large building with multiple offices/departments/doctors. That being said, I always try to help the other person on the line and try not to get frustrated with the patient. I know they’re just following (misguided) instructions and the medical system is a mess (especially with the looong wait times here in Canada) I do however get super frustrated with the family doctor offices who tell them to call us simply because they don’t know how/don’t want to deal with it themselves. So very frustrating and it wastes everyone’s time.

    I’ve also been on the receiving end of miserable receptionists that hate their job so I vow never to become that person!

  19. liz

    I’ve had to use the “I realize this isn’t your fault, but you’re the fifth person I’ve talked to about this, and everyone has passed me down the line and no one has been able to help me and I’m frustrated. I really do NOT want to have to put it in the hands of my husband, who is a lawyer, because that makes it unpleasant for everybody. Can you please help me?”

    This works, even if your husband is not a lawyer, btw (because how would they know?) The word, “Lawyer”, tends to focus their attention quite nicely.

  20. Gretchen

    As an aside, I would totally let the doctor you end up seeing know that Lauren was such a good customer experience whenever you get there. Good feedback to encourage more good work! I totally forget to do this all the time, but never hurts.

  21. rlbelle

    The other day I called the dentist’s office to make an appointment, and told them I’d switched insurance to a PPO.
    Are you sure it’s a PPO?
    I’m pretty sure.
    What does it say on your card? Does it say PPO on your card?
    No, it just says plan XYPotatocakes.
    PlanXYPotatocakes? I don’t know what that is.
    Well, that’s what it says.
    Usually, if it lists a plan, it’s an HMO.
    Well, I’m pretty sure it’s a PPO.
    I need you to be sure. Can you look it up, and get back to me?
    I have the group ID and insurance number, can you look that up?
    Well, I will have to look it up, but first I need to make sure it’s a PPO.

    Ghaaahgh! (Also, it WAS a PPO.)

    Two months ago, I took my daughter to our eye doctor, told them we’d switched insurance plans, but that we’d picked the same provider, in case that made it easier. She said, “Oh, let me check, you might already be in the computer. She clicked, like, two buttons, and said, “Yep, you’re there, you’re covered.”

    And this is why my eye doctor and his front desk will have my undying loyalty, and my dentist, as nice as he is, will be losing my business just as soon as I have my root canals done.

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