Phone Calls & Scary Mail

Oh golly!  Some folks get instant nerves just thinking about talking about medical or insurance issues on the phone and opening “scary” mail.  Today, I’ll share some insights on what it’s like to be chronically ill and dealing with the “paperwork” side of things. Then, I’ll share some tips that help me handle the stress of it.

I generally enjoy getting phone calls and don’t fear them.  But, when it comes to medical calls, they are certainly not at the top of my “favorites list” and having to deal with them can cause my anxiety to ratchet up.  It can be extremely frustrating to be unable to talk directly to my doctor about something scary my body is doing or trying to orchestrate a procedure that the scheduler is having a difficult time understanding.  On top of my list of ‘faves’ (sarcasm intended) is insurance calls!  They each have their different levels of stress and they are all on the opposite of fun spectrum.

“Scary” mail is something that gets me all jumpy!  What do I mean by “scary” mail?    You know the letters I’m talking about – the ones with the logo and return address that instantly make you anxious and wonder what terms the insurance company is changing or how much you owe a doctor’s office.  That’s the “scary” mail I’m talking about and it usually creates a list of phone calls that have to be made!

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If you’re able, have someone with you when you open your “scary” mail.

There are several logos and return addresses that come through my mailbox that stress me out immediately.  I have found that the best way for me to mentally cope with these is to have my husband open them and give me a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” so I have a fair warning if it’s not good news.  If you live alone, perhaps waiting until you are with a family member or close friend to help you with this process would be an option, if you think it would help ease your nerves.

Most times after you have opened that letter, you realize that there are telephone calls that have to be made to resolve the issue that was addressed in the letter.  Last week, I spent a lot of time on the phone dealing with medical and insurance stuff, so this is still really fresh on my mind.  Here is a little “medical phone log” from four days last week.

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Friday – While I said this phone log was from four days last week, it all started with a phone call received on Friday afternoon.  This is my personal least favorite way to get the news that a long list of phone calls is waiting for me.

I spent 10 minutes on the phone with my PCP’s clinic nurse who was telling me about issues with my insurance situation.  (It’s all fine, don’t worry, but in the moment it’s stressful as heck, obviously.)

Monday – I spent 10 minutes on the phone with Insurance Company A and 20 minutes on the phone with Insurance Company B.  (I went to sleep with no resolution and was waiting for call backs.)

Tuesday – Surprisingly, zero health phone calls!  But I was still waiting for resolution from the insurance companies and the stress of that was tumbling around in my mind.

Wednesday – I couldn’t take the stress of waiting for the insurance companies to call back, so I started up again.  I spent 30 minutes on the phone with Insurance Company B – 5 minutes with whoever the person I was on the phone with from Insurance Company B told me to call a number that led nowhere.  I spent 30 minutes on hold with another number and was told to call a third number to talk to someone who could help fix my problem.  I spent 1 hour on the phone in a 3-way call with someone from Insurance Company A and Insurance Company B (yeah, we had a three way chat, what a party!) to finally somewhat resolve my issue.

Thursday – I spent 30 more minutes on the phone with insurance people.  I made another 10 minute call to talk to my infusion pharmacy and am waiting for a return call.

If you’re into adding, I spent three and a half hours on the phone over these four days dealing with one insurance issue.  This is just a brief sample of dealing with dumb insurance stuff and not with an actual serious health issue.

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We all deal with “scary” mail and dumb phone calls.  This is why I am hoping this list of tools that I use will help not just for people dealing with medical “paperwork,” but everyone in general!

Here are my tips for getting through the grunt work of the dreaded calls and “scary” mail.

Get it over with as soon as possible!

I can’t stress this enough (even to myself!)  It always feels SO much better when the dumb things are done and you can get on to the fun things of life.   When I realize I have a list of medical calls that I need to make, I try to get right on it!

Sometimes, I get super frustrated when I get a call or letter on Friday afternoon because I know I don’t have time before the weekend starts to get through the multiple calls necessary to resolve to issue.  I know the problem is going to be there all weekend and stress me out.  I would much rather start fresh on Monday and churn through it as quickly as possible!

I will say that when you do get a call or piece of mail that adds to your to-do list on a Friday afternoon – remember that you are doing the best you can.  There is usually nothing you can do during the weekend to get those things taken care of.  Don’t let the worry and stress eat away at your weekend though!  Heck no!

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Talk in a funny voice to phone robots.

Now, this isn’t a serious tip, but it sure makes things more fun!

Wait until you get to talk to the right person before spilling your guts.

I’ve spent a TON of time on the phone with who I thought was the right person only to be told after telling my story in detail that I need to be transferred to someone else.  I’ve learned that rather than wasting my breath telling the entire story, to keep it simple until I’m talking to the right person.  Not only does this conserve time, it also conserves energy and we can all use a little more of that!

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Get the right person’s direct extension.

This is HUGE!  It doesn’t always work out that you can ask for someone’s direct extension but if you find the person you need to be talking to who understands your situation best, it is so helpful to be able to reconnect with them after the initial phone call.  So, take a note of their name and direct extension if you can get it!

Be persistent.

When dealing with a doctor’s office or large company, they usually don’t have a nice little sticky note on their desk by the phone of people that need to be followed up with.  That is why it is so helpful to keep reminders in your phone to help you be persistent in calling back when waiting for an issue to be resolved.  Otherwise, there is no way to know if the issue in question is being worked on or has become lost the shuffle.

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Find something to do while waiting on hold.

I personally hate on-hold music.  It gets me almost as worked up as the phone call itself.  That’s why I find something productive to do while I’m sitting on hold.  Just doodling on a notepad or folding laundry helps me get through those often long wait times!  Put that phone on speaker and get something done if you can!

None of these tips is going to make the dumb phone calls and mail stop, but I’m hopeful they’ll help you breathe a little easier the next time you have to go down that rabbit hole of figuring out a complex situation.  I know they help me immensely!

I’d love to hear some of your tips on dealing with stressful phone calls and things that come through your mailbox!

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