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11 Tips for Making Medical and Insurance Calls Less Frustrating

Last year, I had to call my health insurance company so many times I now have their number as a contact in my phone. This year seems to be continuing the trend of needing to call to discuss one thing or another far more frequently than I’d like to be calling. Frankly, I miss being a kid and being able to hand the phone off to my dad, letting it be his problem.

If it isn’t calling the health insurance company, it’s negotiating with doctors’ receptionists who think they know it all when in truth they know very little about your particular case or what’s going on, or the billing department for the fifth time because a bill is still incorrect. Worse still, is calling office after office trying to find someone who will take you on as a patient. If you’re a rare patient, you’ll be making a lot of calls.

And to think, people still believe others “fake” their condition or disability for the fun perks! Ha! This is not fun. These are not perks. I’d much rather call someone else than my insurance company, various doctor offices, or the billing department.

Nonetheless, these calls are inevitable when you live with a chronic illness, as I do. I’ve had complex regional pain syndrome for about eight years now. In that time, I’ve made a lot of difficult and stressful calls to find answers, fix billing errors, ask for appeals on claims and more. I’ve learned a few tips to pass on for what not to do, and how to handle these calls while remaining calm, professional, and only frustrated on the inside.

What not to do:

  1. Don’t swear.
  2. Don’t yell or use an aggressive tone of voice.
  3. Don’t use demeaning words, even if they don’t know what’s going on or haven’t been helpful.
  4. Don’t hang up on them.

You may not be aware of this, but it is possible for a doctor’s office to “fire” you as a patient. If you are overly aggressive towards their staff, there is a very high chance of this happening to you. It does not matter if you feel justified in being upset – they have a right to not be treated like chew toys.

What to do instead:

  1. Take notes. Before you place the call, grab a notepad or an empty sheet of paper if you use a medical binder. Write the date, who you are calling, and jot down what you need to talk to them about, as well as any questions you have with space underneath for the answers. As you go through the call, write down what is said. Also, write down what call number this is, so that if the problem persists you can say how many times you’ve called.
  2. Use fun colored pens for your notes. This seems silly, but it can make looking at the notepad less stressful.
  3. Smile! The person you’re talking to can’t see you smiling, but it’s hard to be terse with someone and smile at the same time.
  4. Write down their name, and clarify that you have the right name before you continue with your call. Recording the name helps you keep better records, and can help clear up future problems. Using their name while you talk to them makes them feel like they are being heard and respected. Forgetting their name, even if unintentional, makes them feel like you don’t care what’s being said.
  5. “Please” and “thank you” go along way. Even if they weren’t helpful at all, it helps to continue on with good manners.
  6. Remember that they are people too. Chances are, the person you’re talking to is not the one who screwed up. They’re probably used to getting yelled at, but that doesn’t mean you have to be one more reason they hate their job. Be polite, say thank you, keep it chill. This will likely surprise them and they’ll be more willing to help you. Also, if this is someone you’re likely to be calling again at some point, it will serve you better to be nice, no matter how angry you are.
  7. Find a frustration outlet, other than them. Doing something that allows your frustration to vent out safely can help you stay calmer while talking to them. Pace back and forth, ride an exercise bike or walk on a treadmill, play with a fidget toy, play with therapy or silly putty, stroke your pet. Something that gets the energy out, but that won’t distract you from your conversation.
  8. Only do a set number of calls in a day. If you have a lot of calls to make, you are probably going to be more worn out by the last one. A tired person with a chronic illness is a person more likely to be terse and frustrated. Break up the list and limit yourself to two to three calls instead of all five to six.
  9. Make your calls first thing. If you can, making the calls first thing accomplishes two things: You know you’re calling at a time when they are open, and you get the calls over with. If your condition is worse in the morning, wait until a time of day when it settles.
  10. Be friendly. Sometimes you may hear a representative apologize for their computer being slow. Reciprocate their frustration by making a light comment about how it’s Monday and the computer just doesn’t want to work. Or tell them that it is OK, your computer is slow too! If they ask how your day is going, answer them and ask about theirs.
  11. If you have chronic pain, get yourself in a comfortable position. If you force yourself to hold a position that triggers more pain, it will make you more stressed out, tired and less patient.

I use all of these tips, and the result? These calls are still difficult, but I’m a lot better at staying professional and tactful, even when I’m furious. I take notes with fun colored pens — usually two colors, one for questions, one for answers. I smile real big even when fuming on the inside. I’ve played with therapy putty, stroked my dog, or ridden an exercise bike while making calls. I use people’s names, say please and thank you, and engage in non-related conversation. I remind myself that they are people too, doing a job where they probably get yelled at more than thanked. Sometimes I even encounter people who are just as irritated as I am that I’m not getting proper care, or that a bill is repeatedly wrong, or that I can’t get approval for a treatment that could help me.

Part of chronic illness means having to call these types of businesses far more often than the average person. You’re forever in a long-term relationship with your health insurance company and countless doctor offices. It’s a good idea to cultivate a good relationship, as best you can, even when it’s hard.

It’s incredibly easy to yell at the faceless voice on the phone. But easy isn’t always the best method.

Originally published: June 25, 2019
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