Tales from a healthcare call center


So I used to work in a call center that served Medicare patients, primarily people over the age of 65. Without getting too much into specifics, the big health insurance companies would contract my company to call their patients for various pharmacy services. Except they wouldn’t tell their patients that we would be calling them, and we weren’t allowed to discuss anything with the patients unless we had them verify their information first (due to HIPAA laws). I was there for 5 years. These are (some of) my stories.


The good:

-The old man who had just lost his wife and spent 45 minutes telling me all about each of his cats, his wife’s garden, and the best recipe for cornbread.

-The old lady who misunderstood who I was, and invited me to the opera with her. I had to politely tell her that I couldn’t make it across the country for the opera that night.

-The guy who told me about how he lost his arm in a logging accident. That was a wild story.

-Speaking of wild stories, I talked to a lady who was from Russia and she told me about learning to play the violin from a displaced Russian Jew who fled to Moscow after the war.

-I was calling for a woman, but a man answered the phone. When I asked for her, he said, with the most pride I’ve ever heard, “Ahhhh, you wish to speak with my bride! I’ll go get her!” She cheerfully told me they’d been married 31 years.

-Every person I talked to who had gotten off most of their meds because they had made positive health changes and hearing just how excited about life they were again.

-The 70+ year old lady who told me all about her new weightlifting PRs at the gym. (she was stronk af btw)

-Most of the time if I called for a deceased person (if it was in the last couple days, most people haven’t gotten around to letting the deceased’s insurance know), I usually got a somber, “they passed away on x date,” “they’re no longer with us,” etc. One time though, a lady said with pure southern sass, “oh he dead.’ I still laugh when I remember it.

-I debated putting this under “the bad,” but honestly so so so many people would tell me their tragedies. Sons, daughters, husbands, wives lost to suicide or accidents or old age, stories of isolation, loneliness, people desperate to talk to anyone who would listen because their family never visits, ending hour+ long calls with, “feel free to call me and chat any time!” My heart broke every time, but I loved connecting with them. It’s the only thing I miss about the call center life, so it goes under “the good.”


The bad:

-I asked a guy to verify his address. He said, “okay,” and then didn’t say anything, so I said, “I need to verify your address, or at least the house number?” He said, “yeah?” Me, trying a different approach: “What is your address so I can confirm I’m looking at the right profile?” Him: “I was waiting for you to tell me what you have. That’s what ‘verify’ means. Your English must not be very good.” Born and raised here, sir, but aight.

-Any time I got yelled at about health insurance co-pays or coverages changing. I don’t work at your insurance company so there’s nothing I can do, but you’re welcome to vent at me for the next 30 minutes I guess.

-That time I had to call Russian speaking patients (spoiler alert – I don’t speak Russian) with a translator, and because the translator had to say exactly what the other person was saying, I ended up getting screamed at in both English and Russian at the same time. The translator at least apologized to me at the end of the day, so that was.

-“That Muslim pig in the White House!” (This was the Obama era.)

-Since we were on an autodial system, sometimes the person on the other end would already be talking. I connected once to hear “-and if I ever find you, I’ll fucking kill you! Fuck you! I’ll track you down and blow up your building!” Me: -click-

-“They should just load all the black people in a cannon and fire it at a wall.” (I wrapped up that call real quick.)

-Calling physicians was the WORST. Since I do pharmacy things, I’d get, “I don’t need some pharmacist [with extra stank] who thinks they know more than I do telling me anything. Do you know who I am? I was a professor at Big Name University for 60 years! Your profession is a joke! Get a real job!”

-Developing a stutter because I got interrupted so much.

-Having to console coworkers who got so viciously verbally abused that they had to leave the floor in tears. (And having admin telling them to get back on the phones and put their number back in the autodialer because we have a quota to meet)

-Since we cold called people, it was a complete coin flip if people would believe me that I was with a legit company, or if they’d fly off the handle thinking I’m a scammer and start interrogating/screaming at me. Because of the aforementioned quota and QA getting on our case if they heard us not trying to make a successful call, I’d have to try and convince them I’m legit if they were skeptical. I’m fairly certain I have PTSD because of this.


The worst:

-I was once assigned to check our voicemails. There was a call that was clearly not meant for us. A very meek sounding woman said, “my name is First Last, and I’m calling regarding inmate number 123456. I’m his mother, and I just wanted to wish him a happy birthday, so if you could, please pass along my message. Thank you.” I’ve never in my life heard someone sound so sad and broken. She didn’t leave a call back number, so I couldn’t call her back to tell her she called the wrong place. My heart breaks every time I think about it.


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