A year ago, as Covid was accelerating, many things happened in our Internal Medicine practice. Among them were a dramatic increase in phone traffic and a need for televisits. This created an increased need for more phone lines. The need might be only temporary and we were not in a position to embark on an expensive office phone system upgrade. Using our own cell phones seemed unwise for obvious reasons. But, we chose to add practice cell phones because they could also be used from home when we might be quarantined. They were also easier to use for audio-visual calls. Refurbished iPhones are affordable and work well. Once we got the new Sim Cards, we were good to go. It seemed like a good plan, implemented quickly.
However, a problem appeared: When we used any of these newer lines, no one would answer the phone. They assumed we were Robocalls. It became incredibly frustrating.
The problem is newly assigned phone numbers take time to be attached to a name. On a recipient’s caller ID, only our phone number appeared. There was no name. This makes us look like a Robocall! Another issue is newly assigned cell numbers often had been recently assigned to people who did not pay their bills. This means the numbers receive non-stop incoming calls from bill collectors. We anticipated this and only used them for outgoing calls. But, what if no one would answer their phone when we called?
Then, it got worse: We would try to leave a message, but the mailboxes were full. This is not unusual. An amazing number of people have no idea how to maintain their voice mailbox.We all know Robocalls are non-stop. Everyone receives several calls a day, promoting vehicle warranty scams, fake Visa card deals or others. Sometimes, a robotic voice advises your Social Security account is being used for fraud. No wonder people stop answering their phones!But this is not acceptable when your primary communication method with the outside world is the phone you never answer.
Recently, Covid vaccine systems have hit a similar brick wall. People who have trouble navigating email and the internet have signed up with their phones. Their name soon comes up and the person is called to schedule their vaccine. The person receiving the call does not recognize the number and the person never answers the phone. Even if they know how to check their messages, their voice mailbox is probably full. The message is never received. The vaccine is never given and patients wander into our office, complaining they were never called. Vaccine centers in our area are pleading with people to ANSWER THEIR phones!!!
Yesterday: A patient’s potassium was 6.7. Another person’s Covid test was unexpectedly positive. Neither patient answered the phone. Both patients had full voice mailboxes. The workaround is to find a family member willing to answer their phone. Another option is for us to switch to one of our older copper landlines to make the call. These old lines have been connected to us for more than two decades, so the caller ID says who we are. People are more willing to pick up these calls. But, this is crazy!
No, I don’t blame people for avoiding scam phone calls. If I was not a doctor whose job was to answer the phone when my patients or their specialists call, I, too, might let the phone flip over to “message.” This is irony! We literally walk around with a device that gives us instantaneous 24-7 contact to and from anywhere in the world, yet we are less accessible than a century ago when our phones were permanently attached to our walls. Thank goodness for progress!