“Carol, meet Mrs. D; Mrs. D, meet Carol” (An ode to 3-way calling)

My latest wired.com column begins:

Back in February my son lost control of his car and landed in the hospital. Fortunately he has recovered from his injuries. And fortunately we have health insurance. So everything’s OK. However, I’m still — six months later — trying to untangle the bureaucratic mess that ensued.

Multiple health-care providers and multiple insurers are involved. They don’t talk to each other directly. It’s up to me to decode their communications meant for one another and route them appropriately. In the column I imagine a cloud-based tool that helps me do that, and I may live long enough to use it someday. But for now there’s a simple tool, often overlooked, that can help you hack through these bureaucratic thickets. It’s 3-way calling.

Once in an airport I saw a guy with a payphone in one hand and a cellphone in the other hand. He grew more and more agitated. Finally he removed his head from between the phones, rotated one of them, slapped them together microphone-to-speaker, and yelled “Talk to each other!”

I do the same thing all the time, a bit less dramatically. Just this morning I learned from Mrs. D at the hospital that the health insurer still isn’t processing a pile of bills. She was asking me questions that only the insurer could answer. So I called up the health insurer and got Carol. She was asking me questions that only the hospital could answer. I did a hook flash, called Mrs. D, and flashed again.

“Carol, meet Mrs. D; Mrs. D, meet Carol.”

And then I just listened to them work it out. When you do this kind of thing, it’s always fascinating to observe the degree to which organizations are hamstrung by their own org charts, acronyms, and methods. As detailed in the column, the initial sticking point was a magic token called the Exhaustion of Benefits letter, which was supposed to trigger the cutover from auto to health insurance. It took me a long time to figure out what that was and where to route it, but even after I did things remained stuck.

On the provider side, there were org-chart assumptions (e.g., that the hospital and the clinic are separate entities) not evident to the insurer. On the insurer side, there were acronyms (PIP) and terms (“ledger”) not understood by the provider. And on each side there were procedures unfamiliar to the other.

You would think that people who deal with these issues every day would know the drill. But there are many different ways to play the same game. It’s up to the customer to be the referee. If you haven’t tried it, use 3-way calling the next time you find yourself in the middle of one of these messes. For now it’s the best tool for the job.

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2 thoughts on ““Carol, meet Mrs. D; Mrs. D, meet Carol” (An ode to 3-way calling)

  1. They probably do know the drill, but the longer they play the game, the longer they get to hold on to their money…. And I would bet that if they delay and circumvent long enough some of it just goes away…. And they get to keep some hard earned dollars….

  2. And yet somehow, half of the US believe this mess is better than universal healthcare like that enjoyed by many other countries around the world.

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