Breakdown in Communications: Third Party Answering Services

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I grew up in a simpler time. Almost everyone I knew went to Dr. Movelle, whose office was in his house. If his office phone was busy, you just tried again in a couple of minutes. (This was in the days before answering machines.) It was rare you didn’t get through on your first or second try.

My husband and I currently have a wonderful doctor, who usually ends our appointments by saying, “If you have any concerns between now and your next appointment, call me.”

The only problem is, when I call her, the phone doesn’t ring in her office, or even in the building she shares with multiple doctors in her mega-practice clinic. It rings in a call center, and I’m not convinced it’s even in our state.

The call center won’t put me through to my doctor’s office. They will forward a message and the doctor or her assistant will call me back by the end of the day.

If it were only that simple.

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The answering service employees have no medical training, so when I explain my problem, it’s total mumbo jumbo to them. Most are so young that they haven’t experienced my ailments. When I dictate my message and ask them to read it back, it bears little resemblance to what I’ve told them. After several tries, we might get closer to what I want to express, but when the doctor’s assistant calls me back, it’s clear that there was a breakdown in communications somewhere along the way because the response doesn’t answer my question. And if I miss the call, I’m instructed to call them back—and I get the answering service again.

Sometimes we play phone tag for a week or more before I get the help I need.

A similar thing happened to me recently when I tried to make an appointment for an MRI. I’ve been using the same imaging center for a decade, but they recently switched to third-party answering service. I held for a long time as their recording told me I could press 1 and I’d get a callback without losing my place in line. I pressed 1. I never got called back.

Another suggestion on the recording was to go to their website and arrange an appointment online. I did that.

The next day I got a text telling me to call them to make an appointment for my MRI. I called and held for 20 minutes, and when I tried to confirm my appointment, I got cut off. This happened multiple times. I gave up.

When I showed up for the MRI appointment I’d made online, the receptionist had no record of it. I told her I’d made it online, as their recording recommended. She said, “Yeah, don’t do that. It doesn’t work.” I told her about the horrible time I had with their phone system. She said, “Everyone’s working from home.” I now have an appointment for two weeks from now, made in person.

old telephone

And when I next checked my phone, I had a message telling me to call to make an appointment for my MRI. I tried to call, and I got a recording that said, “All our locations are closed due to inclement weather.” I live in Arizona. It’s sunny and hot all the time. No one considers that inclement. Which is why I suspect the answering service is nowhere near here.

I’m going to make a sweeping generalization and say that third-party answering services do not deliver satisfactory customer service to patients and it would be better for medical facilities not to use them. Really, for what health care costs, we deserve better.

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